[Relevant documents: Twelfth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2012-13, The draft Anti-social Behaviour Bill: pre-legislative scrutiny, HC 836, and the Government response, Cm 8607; Seventh Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2012-13, Dog Control and Welfare, HC 575, and the Government response, HC 1092; First Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill, HC 95.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In three years, the Government have made significant strides in cutting crime and reforming the police. Since 2010, crime has fallen by more than 10%. This is in no small measure down to the professionalism and dedication of police officers and police staff working day in, day out to keep our neighbourhoods safe. The reduction in crime has been achieved against the backdrop of a difficult financial climate for the police, as for other public services. We have taken the decisions necessary to restore this country’s long-term economic well-being. We have been able to mitigate the impact of diminished resources because we have allowed officers to focus on their core task of cutting crime. We have thrown off the straitjacket of national targets and freed up the front line from pointless form-filling and needless bureaucracy. Through the introduction of police and crime commissioners, we have revolutionised the accountability of police forces, and they are now far more responsive to local needs and priorities.
In the last Session, we legislated to set up the National Crime Agency which will, from the autumn, lead the fight against serious, organised and complex crime. The College of Policing is already firmly established and is leading the way in ensuring that the police operate to the highest professional standards. We are giving the Independent Police Complaints Commission the capacity it needs to investigate all serious allegations of misconduct. We cannot, however, afford to ease up on our reform programme. We cannot rest while the crime survey shows that there were 8.9 million crimes against adults last year. We cannot rest while businesses were the victims of more than 9 million crimes, or rest when the police recorded approximately 2.3 million incidents of antisocial behaviour, with many more going unreported.
I, and the Home Affairs Committee, support what the right hon. Lady is doing on the new landscape of policing. She listed a number of the organisations and described how they would fit into the new landscape. Has she made a decision on whether counter-terrorism is to remain with the Metropolitan police, or will it be placed with the new National Crime Agency?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his early remarks, and for the work of the Home Affairs Committee in its consideration of the Bill. We value its work. The answer to his question is no. It is still a matter for decision. I was clear, at an early stage, that it would not be right to make a decision on where counter-terrorism should sit before the Olympics or before the National Crime Agency was properly up and running. The legislation has now passed and we are working towards the formal and final launch of the NCA later this year.
The Bill marks the next stage of our reform programme to deal with the challenges we face.
Before my right hon. Friend moves on, will she take this opportunity to congratulate the retiring chief constable of Bedfordshire, Alfred Hitchcock, who manages one of the smallest forces in the country? Crime rates are down, detection rates are up and our budget has been reduced in line with Government expectations. As he rightly said:
“instead of an 82-page business plan we have a card that explains what we do and why.”
I am grateful—[Interruption.] I suspect there might be one or two more sedentary interventions; it was an interesting moment when I was told that Alfred Hitchcock was in my office at the Home Office waiting to see me. I congratulate retiring Chief Constable Alf Hitchcock on the work he has done in Bedfordshire. I congratulate all police staff who work in Bedfordshire on the impact of their work in ensuring that crime has gone down. We now see a much clearer focus for members of the public on what the police are doing and how they are delivering for my hon. Friend’s constituents and others.
I cannot top Alfred Hitchcock, but will the Home Secretary join me in congratulating another eminent campaigner who has welcomed many aspects of the Bill that relate to dog law reform—Mr Dave Joyce of the Communication Workers Union? However, does she share his frustration that it has taken three years since the consultation closed in May 2010? In that time, 9,000 of his postal worker colleagues have been attacked by dogs. When will we see the measures in the Bill implemented?
I note the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, and I also note the efforts of the CWU on this matter. Sadly, in recent years we have seen a number of serious injuries from dogs, not just to postal workers but to other individuals. That is why I am pleased that the Bill contains measures on dangerous dogs. The first stage is for the Bill to be supported in its progress through this House and the other place.
Parts 1 to 5 will ensure that the police, local authorities and others have a comprehensive set of fast, flexible and responsive powers to tackle the scourge of antisocial behaviour. We should not forget that much of what is labelled antisocial behaviour is in fact crime. Even low-level public order offences or criminal damage can be frightening and upsetting for victims, and can blight the appearance of a neighbourhood. If left unchecked, the cumulative impact of even a small number of repeat instances can have devastating consequences.
I would be the first to accept that legislation by and of itself is not the answer to antisocial behaviour. What is needed is for the police, councils, landlords and other agencies to work effectively together to address local problems before they get out of hand. In many cases, informal, non-statutory remedies can be used to nip a problem in the bud. There is clearly a need, however, for more formal powers. They need to be fit for purpose, quick and easy to use, effective at changing behaviours and capable of addressing the full spectrum of problems that can afflict communities. That does not describe the powers available under Labour’s legislation.
Will my right hon. Friend explain that this is the first opportunity the House has had seriously to consider revising the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which was good legislation but has required some revision? For what reason have her Department and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs drawn back from the full consolidation of the legislation, as possibly initially considered?
Many comments are made about the dangerous dogs legislation and its impact. It is right that we have looked simply at the area where we feel that more legislation is required. This is already a lengthy Bill covering several issues. Rather than trying to consolidate the existing legislation in this Bill, the important issue is filling in the gaps by addressing the powers that still need to be available to people.
The previous antisocial behaviour legislation provided a veritable alphabet soup of powers: the ASBI—antisocial behaviour injunction; the DBO—drinking banning order; the ISO—individual support orders; the DPPO—designated public places order; and of course the ASBO and many more. I am sure that each of the nine major pieces of antisocial behaviour law passed by the previous Administration was enacted with the best of intentions, but that piecemeal approach, with each new Bill responding to the latest manifestation of antisocial behaviour, has left practitioners with 19 separate powers. The result has been not effectiveness but confusion about which of those powers should and could be used in any particular case.
I think that the Home Secretary has started to make this point already, but does she agree that what victims of antisocial behaviour want is not a complicated smorgasbord of options open to agencies, but a quick and effective remedy that can make real changes in their local area, which is exactly what the Bill will give us?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I will come on to explain the various new powers in the Bill, the whole point of which is to provide a remedy that is effective, easier and quicker, enabling us to remedy the problems of antisocial behaviour from which too many of our constituents suffer.
The Bill sweeps away the existing powers and replaces them with a streamlined, flexible framework: just six powers that will equip practitioners with the tools they need to keep their communities safe. The criminal behaviour order and the injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance will stop antisocial behaviour by individuals and address the underlying causes of their actions. The dispersal power will enable the police to move on groups or individuals causing problems at particular locations. The community protection notice, the public spaces protection order and the new closure power will deal with environmental problems or disorderly conduct at particular localities or premises.
The right hon. Lady is indeed indulging me with her generosity. How will she seek to balance the public spaces protection order against the legitimate interest of users of public spaces and rights of way, including the Ramblers Association, which, for understandable reasons, is concerned that it could lead to the blocking off of areas that people have sought access to, legitimately, for many years?
I do not see that being a problem as a result either of the public spaces protection order when dealing with environmental problems in public spaces or of the collection of orders when dealing with people who behave inappropriately in public spaces. This is about ensuring that public spaces are available to people; that they feel able to use those public spaces; and that antisocial behaviour or environmental problems do not prevent it.
Part 5 will strengthen the powers of landlords to evict individuals who blight the lives of their neighbours. These provisions have had the benefit of pre-legislative scrutiny by the Home Affairs Select Committee—as I said earlier, I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and his colleagues for their thorough examination of the draft Bill. The evidence they heard reinforces our view that the existing powers are often slow, difficult to deploy and in need of rationalisation. There are those in the Opposition who seek to characterise the provisions in the Bill as a weakening of the powers to tackle antisocial behaviour. Perhaps that is from a sense of parental loyalty to the ASBO, but it is certainly not the result of credible analysis of the reforms we propose.
On examination, it can be seen that in recent years there has been a significant decline in the use of the ASBO. That is essentially because it can take months to secure an order and because, once obtained, over half of all orders are breached. For some, the ASBO became a badge of honour rather than an instrument for changing behaviour, which does not suggest it was an unalloyed success. In contrast, the criminal behaviour order and the new injunction may contain, as well as restrictions, positive requirements to address offending behaviour. As a purely civil order, a part 1 injunction may be granted by a court on the basis of evidence judged to the civil standard of proof, thereby significantly speeding up and simplifying the application process.
Moreover, in the event that either the order or the injunction is breached, both will attract tough penalties—up to and including a custodial sentence. Far from weakening the current powers, we are replacing them with powers that will be speedier to obtain, have a wider reach and, crucially, be more effective in addressing the underlying problems.
The Home Secretary is right that ASBOs did not have the desired effect, but I am concerned about clause 17 on naming and shaming children and young people involved in such behaviour. Will she confirm that the Government’s intention is that young people should be named—in breach of the normal principles—only where absolutely necessary and that it will not become a routine step?
We think it is right that the power should be available, but of course we would expect it to be used proportionately. We would expect the courts to adopt such an approach.
Part 6 provides for the community remedy and community trigger, which will put victims at the heart of the response to low-level crime and antisocial behaviour. The community remedy will give victims a powerful voice in determining the appropriate punishment to be attached to an out-of-court disposal. The community trigger will ensure an effective power to compel local agencies to review their response to repeated instances of antisocial behaviour. The public have a right to expect an appropriate and proportionate response to each reported incident.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that in the areas where the community trigger was piloted there were 44,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour, but that the trigger was successfully activated only 13 times? Does she regard that as a success for the pilots?
The whole point about our approach is that we expect the police and other relevant agencies to act when an instance of antisocial behaviour is reported to them. As I am sure hon. Members across the House will have experienced, all too often several instances will be reported without any action appearing to be taken. The community trigger will ensure that a community can get a response. I would hope and expect that the community trigger was not necessary in many instances, because the police and other agencies had reacted to the first report, rather than waiting for several.
If the Home Secretary is right that the trigger will guarantee a more rapid response, why does the Bill say it will happen only when there have been at least three complaints, which means that there could be five, 10 or as many as the local police and crime commissioner and council decide?
The reason is simple: the Government believe in local discretion in some areas. There is a fundamental difference between the Government and the Opposition over the ability of local areas and police and crime commissioners to be involved in determining what is right for their circumstances and local area. As the right hon. Lady says, we have put a figure in the Bill to indicate when we think a trigger would be appropriate, but it would then be down to the local area to determine. For some time, the Opposition have been saying that the fact that there have not been many instances of community triggers is somehow a failure. Actually, we want antisocial behaviour dealt with on the first report, rather than people waiting and feeling that they have to use the community trigger.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that in some instances severe antisocial behaviour leads almost to a fear of reporting incidents, and will she therefore welcome the idea that councillors, MPs and third parties may implement the trigger under those circumstances?
I understand the point my hon. Friend is making. The point about the community trigger is that it is not just about the individual on the receiving end of antisocial behaviour. It is called the community trigger precisely because others in the community may be able to exercise it, as opposed to the individual who has been subjected to such behaviour.
Where local agencies respond effectively, few victims would need to resort to using the trigger, so it was not surprising that the recent pilots showed relatively few people taking advantage of it. When agencies fail to act, it should be possible for persistent antisocial behaviour to be dealt with and for a response to be required from the relevant agencies. That is real empowerment for victims and contrasts with the Labour party’s proposal of a 24-hour guarantee, which in practice may amount to no more than an e-mail acknowledging a complaint. The arrival of an e-mail telling someone that their complaint has been logged is of little comfort, and still less use to anyone suffering from a failure to do anything about the antisocial behaviour that is blighting their lives.
For many, owning a dog will be a source of companionship and, in the case of working dogs, valued support and assistance. However, where owners do not take responsibility for their dogs—by failing to clear up after them or to ensure they are properly trained and socialised—those dogs can become a menace, spoiling local amenities and putting people at risk of harm. The Bill tackles irresponsible dog owners in two ways. First, it strengthens the provisions in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, to which hon. Members have referred. In particular, we are extending the offence of having a dog that is dangerously out of control in a public place to cover all places. That will mean that the police can take action when a person is attacked by a dog in the home. The Bill also provides that an attack on an assistance dog is an aggravated offence under the 1991 Act.
Secondly, through the new flexible powers to tackle antisocial behaviour, the police and local authorities will be able to take preventive measures to tackle specific local issues. My hon. Friends the Members for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) and for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), as well as other hon. Members, have argued for a bespoke “dog control notice”, but such an approach would once again lead us down the road of having a plethora of narrowly focused, inflexible powers to deal with particular problems. Although the provisions in parts 1 to 4 of the Bill do not provide for dog control notices in name, they provide for them in substance. For example, it would be open to the police or local council to issue a community protection notice against the owner of an aggressive dog. Such a notice could include a requirement to attend training classes, and keep the dog muzzled and on a lead in a public place. Alternatively, a public spaces protection order could prohibit all dogs from a particular locality, such as a children’s play area. Given the ability to use such powers to target specific dog-related issues, I hope the House will accept that there is simply no need for a separate dog control notice.
When we were in opposition there was a clear understanding that antisocial behaviour orders were not up to the job, as my right hon. Friend has said. So that the House can have a clear understanding, can she explain the difference between dog control notices, which seem to operate so effectively in Scotland, and the notices that form part of this Bill?
What I am trying to explain to the House is that the new orders and powers we are introducing in this legislation will make it possible to take the sort of effective action that can be taken under a dog control notice, albeit without having to introduce something that is specifically called a dog control notice, with limits around that. The flexibility will be there because we are introducing wider powers, but they can be used to address the specific issue of dangerous dogs and their behaviour.
I thank the Home Secretary for kindly giving way. I share the sentiment expressed by many Members, including the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that the proposals in the Bill are woefully inadequate. On prevention, can the Home Secretary share with the House why the police do not support the proposals in the Bill?
I do not believe that the proposal to extend the offence of having a dog that is dangerously out of control from public spaces to all places, so that it covers private places as well, or that ensuring that it is possible under the new flexible powers for preventive action to be taken—I have given some examples—is, as the hon. Lady describes, “woefully inadequate”. What we are doing in this Bill is setting out a set of clear, flexible arrangements that can be used to ensure the sort of control of dogs that, I am sure, not just she, but other Members of this House wish to see.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way yet again. My question is about resourcing for such orders. If the control of dogs is simply subsumed into a raft of antisocial behaviour issues, how will she ensure that it has the priority it needs, with 210,000 or more attacks taking place each year?
I realise that the hon. Lady had a very sad case in her constituency in relation to dogs acting in a private place, and there have sadly been a number of other such cases. The Government have responded by introducing this new power, but dealing with the issue will come down to decisions that will be taken at a local level. Decisions will be taken by the police, local authorities and the agencies working together when the problem of a dangerous dog has been identified. The point about these powers is that they are sufficiently flexible to enable people to take a decision about what will work and what action needs to be taken in a particular circumstance. The fact that we have not attached the words “dog control” to the powers in the Bill does not mean that they will not be there. I believe they will be.
Part 8 targets the middlemen responsible for supplying illegal firearms to street gangs and organised crime groups. Thankfully, firearms offences are relatively rare, but the police still recorded more than 5,000 of them in 2012. We need to target those who, through their callous disregard for the lives of others, hire out guns as if they were just another tool. The Bill will accordingly introduce a new offence of possession of a firearm for sale or transfer. That offence, together with the existing offences dealing with illegal importation, exportation and manufacture, will be subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The Select Committee on Home Affairs has addressed this issue in the past. Under the arrangements we are introducing in the Bill, those who supply illegal weapons will be dealt with. Morally, they are every bit as culpable as those who pull the trigger, and they should therefore face the same penalties.
Part 9 deals with one of the manifestations of modern-day slavery: forced marriage. This country is a world leader in tackling this horrendous practice, including through the exemplary work of the forced marriage unit and a number of charities working in this field. The introduction of the civil forced marriage protection order has afforded some protection to victims and potential victims, but people who seek to consign their victims to a life of miserable servitude should face the full rigour of the criminal law. The new offences of forced marriage and of breach of a protection order will act as a deterrent and ensure that those found guilty of such practices face fitting punishment.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incredibly important for the wider public—and, indeed, everyone in this House—to understand that there is a clear difference between an arranged marriage, where there is consent on the part of both parties, and a forced marriage, which is wrong on every level? It is absolutely right that the Bill includes proposals to deal with that.
My hon. Friend makes an important and valid point. All of us who talk about this issue should be clear about the difference and careful in the language we use. As he says, there is a real difference between an arranged marriage, where there has been consent, and a forced marriage, where there has not.
Part 10 contains a number of important policing reforms. First, it transfers to the College of Policing key statutory functions that are commensurate with, and appropriate to, its role in setting standards in policing. It will fall to the college to determine such matters as the qualifications for the appointment and promotion of police officers, and to issue codes of practice. In the longer term, we are continuing to explore how best to enshrine the college’s independence in law. This is properly a matter for debate in the context of the Bill, and I have no doubt it will be the subject of further discussion in Committee.
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way a second time. Is she as concerned as I am that the cost of a certificate in knowledge of policing will be £1,000? Does she think that will have an impact on her desire, and that of the whole House, to increase diversity in policing?
The right hon. Gentleman has cited a figure concerning the work being done by the College of Policing, but it is for the college to determine what requirements it will put in place for individuals regarding their initial ability to operate as a police officer, and the development they need to undertake as they progress through the ranks and acquire the necessary skills. It will be for the college to look carefully at the balance that will need to be struck to ensure that people can undertake that training and not be put off doing so. I believe that the College of Policing represents an important development in the policing landscape. As well as setting standards for training, development and skills, it will be a body in which best practice can be shared between police forces. That will have an impact on the ability of the police to fight crime.
On police reform, this part of the Bill will further strengthen the capability of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I have already mentioned that we will build up the commission’s capacity by transferring resources from forces’ professional standards departments, but we also need to ensure that the IPCC has the appropriate remit and powers to operate effectively. Critically, the Bill will ensure that the IPCC has oversight of complaints made against those who are contracted to provide front-line services on behalf of the police.
I very much welcome the extension of the IPCC’s powers to include private contractors. That will become increasingly important, but will that increase in powers include an ability to interview such contractors under caution?
I will need to come back to my hon. Friend on that point. I do not think that we go into quite that issue in the Bill. The Bill will give the IPCC the powers, but there will obviously be subsidiary ways of operating in relation to this. I will look into the point for her. That is me standing here at the Front Bench and being honest!
This part of the Bill will also require forces, police and crime commissioners and others to respond promptly and publicly to IPCC recommendations. Also, as recommended by Tom Winsor, we shall replace the existing cumbersome and ineffective police negotiating machinery. The new police remuneration review body will help to ensure that we can deliver pay and conditions that are fair to police officers and to the taxpayer.
We are also building on the role of police and crime commissioners as local victims’ champions by conferring on them new powers to commission victims’ services. PCCs are best placed to determine the needs of victims in their communities, and they should be empowered to provide the appropriate support. Finally in this part of the Bill, we will continue the work that we started in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to ensure that counter-terrorism powers protect the public, but that they do so in a fair and proportionate manner. As David Anderson, the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, has reaffirmed, the port and border security powers in the Terrorism Act 2000 are
“an essential tool in the protection of the inhabitants of this country from terrorism”.
Reducing the maximum period of detention from nine to six hours and providing for persons detained at ports to have access to legal advice will ensure that these powers can continue to be exercised proportionately.
We have long needed to make changes to the Extradition Act 2003 in order to make it operate in a fairer and more efficient fashion. Part 11 of the Bill introduces a number of such changes. They are in line with recommendations made in Sir Scott Baker’s independent review of our extradition arrangements and build on the introduction of a forum bar to extradition, which we enacted in the last Session. Among other things, the Bill addresses the current unfairness that can arise from the strict operation of the time limits for serving an appeal against extradition.
The Baker review also confirmed that some of the concerns that have been expressed, including by a number of my hon. Friends, about the proportionality of the European arrest warrant were well founded. As the House will know, this is one of the pre-Lisbon policing and criminal justice measures that we are examining to determine whether it is in the best interests of the British people to continue to be a party to the current arrangements. I hope to make a statement to the House soon about the conclusions of that review and the 2014 decision.
It is important that we have the powers that we need to deal with criminality. I am on record as saying that we need to see the deportation and extradition of foreign criminals, but it is also right for the Government —and, in due course, this House—to look at whether the current arrangements are appropriate. Concerns have been raised, not only by Members of Parliament but by Sir Scott Baker, about a number of issues relating to the European arrest warrant, and it is absolutely right that the Government should look at them.
Finally, I want to draw the House’s attention to a couple of the provisions in part 12 of the Bill. One way in which we can free up resources is by increasing the number of police-led prosecutions. Having to pass low-level offences to the Crown Prosecution Service wastes police time. The police already deal with more than 500,000 cases a year in which people plead guilty. Under the provisions in this part, up to a further 50,000 prosecutions for low-level shoplifting offences will be able to be handled by the police, empowering front-line officers and bringing swifter justice for retailers.
In this part of the Bill, we have also clarified the test for determining eligibility for compensation when someone has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. The absence of a clear statutory definition of what amounts to a miscarriage of justice for these purposes has led to repeated legal challenges and shifting case law. As well as providing greater certainty, the new statutory test will ensure that compensation is paid only to those who are clearly innocent.
Since the day I was appointed Home Secretary, I have had one simple priority for the police: to cut crime. The Bill will help to ensure that the police, working in partnership with others and focusing on the rights of victims and communities, can continue to do precisely that. I commend the Bill to the House.
We have another parliamentary Session and another Home Office Christmas tree Bill. Last year’s Bill had a bit of crime, a bit of judicial reform, a bit of extradition and a bit of drugs. This year’s has a bit on police standards, a bit on guns and a bit on dogs, but in none of those areas does it go far enough. The Christmas tree decorations cannot hide the fact that the Bill is weak on tackling antisocial behaviour, at a time when the Office for National Statistics shows concern among the public that antisocial behaviour is going up.
There are areas of the Bill that we will support, as well as areas in which we want the Government to go further. We called for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to cover private companies, and we are glad that those provisions are in the Bill. We support the measures relating to the College of Policing, too, although we believe that the Government should go further on police standards. We agree with the Home Affairs Select Committee that new firearms offences are needed for possession of firearms with intent to supply, and we are glad that they are in the Bill.
We agree that forced marriage should never be tolerated. It is a terrible violation and can destroy people’s lives. The law should be strengthened to build on the work done to stop forced marriage, although the Government need to work with experts to get the detail right and also to ensure that cuts to refuges or to legal aid do not undermine the support that victims need in practice.
The central claim for the Bill, as we can see from its title, is that it will tackle antisocial behaviour, and here there are many false promises. Three years ago, the Home Secretary said that she was determined to take action on antisocial behaviour, yet the figures from the Office for National Statistics show that eight out of 10 people say antisocial behaviour is going up, that nearly half say it is going up a lot, and that only one in 10 say it is going down in their area.
So what have the Government done to help? They have cut the community safety funding by nearly two thirds, even though those are the funds that help communities to pay for extra police community support officers, for youth activities, for action against gangs, for extra street lighting and for CCTV. This is the crime prevention investment that helps to save money and police time later on, yet the Government have cut it severely. They have cut it not just by 20% in line with police cuts, or even by 23% in line with the Home Office budget, but by over 60%.
This is all happening at a time when the Government are cutting 15,000 police officers, including more than 7,000 from the most visible units of all. The Home Secretary claimed earlier, in Home Office questions, that a higher proportion of police officers were now on the front line. However, a slightly higher proportion of a much lower number still means fewer police officers, and the proportion who are visible has gone down from 12.3% to 11.8%. The Government are not just cutting police numbers; they are making things harder for them, too.
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way, but I really wish she would not keep undermining the police force, which is doing a fantastic job. In the Thames valley, we have had crime down and detection rates up year after year. Why can she not just acknowledge that we have police forces that are doing a great job in some difficult circumstances?
Police officers certainly are working extremely hard in very difficult circumstances. Many of them are finding themselves stretched in very different directions. Chief constables are also working immensely hard to keep their area safe and to reduce crime. However, we need to recognise that at the same time as 15,000 police officers are being cut from the force, we are seeing 30,000 fewer crimes being solved and a big increase in the use of community resolutions for serious and violent crimes. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I find that to be a matter of serious concern. It is important to get justice for victims, and that is being put at risk by the Government’s approach.
We have said very clearly that we would have reduced the policing budget by around 12% rather than 20% over the course of the current spending review. That would not have led to the reduction of 15,000 police officers over the course of this Parliament. I would also say to the hon. Gentleman that he promised to increase the number of police officers by 3,000—it was in his party’s manifesto. That is what he called for, and he has done the absolute opposite. Government Members have not only reduced police officers on the street; they are making it more difficult for them to fight crime.
On that point, when I talk to police officers in Stoke-on-Trent, who are doing a fine job in extremely difficult circumstances because of all the cuts, and not just to their positions—[Interruption.] I wish the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne) would stop chuntering while I am trying to ask a question. Police officers already find themselves in difficult circumstances, yet they also tell me that the toolkit of the various powers available to them is being reduced at the same time. How can that help?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Looked at across the board—whether it be what is happening with DNA or CCTV—Government Members are making it harder for the police to do their job.
After the London riots, CCTV helped to secure huge numbers of convictions. We all know from our constituencies of communities and estates that have worked hard to get CCTV and how it has helped to provide security in those areas, cutting down on antisocial behaviour and abuse. Yet the freedom of information requests put in by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) have shown that one in five councils is now cutting CCTV under a Home Secretary who is wrapping CCTV in a whole load of new red tape. There are already safeguards for residents’ privacy, but the Home Secretary wants a whole load of extra checks, rules and administration just to make sure. The impact assessment produced by the Home Office has found that these new regulations will cost the police and councils £14 million to comply with—and it could be as much as £30 million at a time when resources are so stretched. The Home Secretary, who has already wasted £100 million on the November police and crime commissioner elections now wants to waste up to £30 million making it harder, not easier, to get CCTV. The Home Secretary welcomed extra CCTV in her own constituency three years ago; she should stop making it harder for everyone else to get it.
Does my right hon. Friend share my pride in the fact that City Watch in Liverpool does such a formidable job with its extensive CCTV network, which is visited by people from not only other cities across the UK, but from across Europe because it is so advanced? It has managed to prosecute people successfully for the crimes that they have committed. Would it not be a shame if other cities and places across the UK could not benefit in the same way as the people of Liverpool have, making ours one of the safest cities in the country?
My hon. Friend is right. We have seen the impact in a whole series of areas—as I said, during the London riots, for example. In fact, at the time of the riots, the Prime Minister said of CCTV:
“We are making technology work for us…And as I said yesterday, no phoney human rights concerns about publishing photographs will get in the way of bringing these criminals to justice.”
It would seem, however, that the Home Secretary is tying herself up in exactly those so-called “phoney human rights concerns” that she has pledged to abolish.
This Bill will not make it easier to tackle antisocial behaviour. The Government are indeed making changes to powers: antisocial behaviour injunctions will be replaced with crime prevention injunctions; public space orders will be replaced with public space protection orders; acceptable behaviour agreements will be replaced with acceptable behaviour contracts; premises closure notices will be replaced by closure notices; and noise abatement notices will be replaced by community protection notices. No set of powers will be perfect, and everyone wants to make sure that the system is as swift and easy to use as possible. The trouble is that the Bill will not achieve that. There is a lot of changing of names and a lot of tinkering at the margins. Some changes may help and make it simpler; others may make it harder while agencies work out how the new processes are supposed to work.
Housing associations, for example, have warned that it will take five years to develop the case law for the new powers to work. The Government’s own figures admit that it will require at least 150,000 hours of police training to use these powers, even though many of them are remarkably similar to the old powers they replaced. The fact is that communities, councils, housing associations, the police and the courts need a wide range of tools to deal with very different problems. The risk for the Home Secretary is that, by trying to squeeze a wide range of problems into a narrow number of powers, she may make it harder to achieve that.
On the one hand, many organisations have written to The Times today to say that they fear this will mean too heavy-handed treatment for the lowest level of antisocial behaviour or nuisance, while on the other hand police officers have raised with me their concern that the powers will not be strong enough to deal with the worst problems. The one-size-fits-all approach has risks.
We need early intervention. We do not want to see young people unnecessarily criminalised or dragged through the courts for low-level problems when it can be sorted out on the spot. We do want to know that persistent, aggressive antisocial behaviour that can terrorise neighbours or residents will be dealt with properly, including by criminal sanctions where needed. Yes, we should have community resolutions and remedies for antisocial behaviour, but they must not be abused.
We know that community resolutions are now being used for serious and violent crimes, including for domestic violence. Last year, community resolutions were used for 33,000 serious and violent crimes, including in 2,500 domestic violence cases, where the Association of Chief Police Officers was clear that they should not be used.
I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that ACPO, like chief constables across the country, will make the best of the approach put to them, but many practitioners across the country have raised the concern that, with changing case law, it will take some time to be able to use the powers as effectively as the previous powers were used.
The Bill does nothing to make sure that community remedies and resolutions are focused on low-level crime. It does nothing to ensure that proper restorative justice, putting victims at the heart of the process, will be pursued or guaranteed. Instead, it risks creating loopholes to let offenders off because overstretched councils and police have not had the resources to sort the problem out.
Does it not send a worrying message to the families of the, on average, two women who die every single week as a result of domestic homicide when 2,500 cases of domestic violence will be treated in this way? Does that not somehow suggest that their loved ones do not count? What sort of message does that send?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Community resolutions and the purpose of the restorative justice approach, which can be valuable in dealing with antisocial behaviour, are about getting offenders to say sorry to the victims and make it up to them. Yet that is exactly what we do not want in domestic violence cases. We do not want a police-sanctioned process of the perpetrator somehow apologising and making it up to the victim, who will then be expected to accept and go along with the apology, as if that makes it all right. Community resolutions should not be used for domestic violence cases. It is still a serious matter of concern that they continue to be used, despite ACPO’s guidance to the contrary. This is an area where the Home Office needs to step in and make sure that stronger guidance is sent out to chief constables and police forces across the country to make it very clear that community resolutions should not be used for domestic violence.
There are many cases in which ASBOs are not appropriate, but it must also be said that in some of the most serious examples of repeated abuse, they have made a significant difference. For example, an aggressive thug who had repeatedly intimidated residents and shopkeepers in a town centre, had repeatedly ignored warnings from the police and the courts, and had breached his ASBO was taken to the criminal courts and given a custodial sentence, but under the new system he would only be served with an injunction. The council would have to pursue expensive civil action to enforce the injunction, and there would be no criminal offence.
Nor will the community trigger solve the problem. The Home Secretary has made the grand promise that
“The trigger will give victims and communities the right to demand that agencies who had ignored a problem must take action.”
However, the trigger is not strong enough to help. For a start—as I pointed out to the Home Secretary earlier—although the Bill specifies that there must have been “at least three…complaints”, the number could be far higher. Police and crime commissioners could decide on five, 10 or 20. The Home Secretary said that it would be a matter for local discretion, but that local discretion already exists. If it were simply a matter for local discretion, she would allow people to choose to set up community triggers, and she would not be legislating. Either she thinks that this is a matter for local discretion and it is up to those people to decide, or she thinks that there should be minimum standards, but something as weak and wishy-washy as “at least three…complaints” is not really a minimum standard at all. This is a con. Even if the magic threshold is passed, what are residents entitled to? A review. How reassuring.
In the five areas that have piloted the community trigger, where there have been 44,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour, the trigger has been successfully activated 13 times—in response to not just less than 1% of complaints, not just less than 0.1%, but 0.03%. This measure will not have a big impact on the antisocial behaviour problems that persist in communities throughout the country.
When the Home Secretary made her speech on antisocial behaviour three years ago, she said:
“The solution to your community’s problems will not come from officials sitting in the Home Office working on the latest national action plan.”
That is certainly true. If the Bill is the nearest that the Home Office gets to its latest national action plan, it will make it harder, not easier, to solve community problems.
There are two respects in which the Bill has missed the opportunity to deal with some serious problems, and I urge Ministers to look at those again. The first is the problem of dangerous dogs, a subject on which a series of interventions were made on the Home Secretary’s speech. We support the measures that will extend the law to private property, but that is not enough. As the Home Secretary will know, the number of attacks has been rising, and there have been tragic fatal attacks. In the last two years, we have seen killings such as those of 18-month-old Zumer Ahmed and 71-year-old Gloria Knowles, who was mauled by dogs. Last week I met the family of 14-year-old Jade Anderson, who was tragically killed in an attack by dangerous dogs. I pay tribute to Jade’s family, who are campaigning for the strengthening of the law.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, a number of charities, and the families of victims killed in dangerous dog attacks want dog control notices to be introduced. I listened carefully to what the Home Secretary said, but the problem is that experts have not been convinced by her argument that wider powers can be used, and that it will not take long to build up case law and make it easy for those powers to be applied. Of course dog control notices will not stop every attack, but they could make it easier for earlier preventive action to be taken. They are working in Scotland, and I urge the Home Secretary to consider the issue again during the Bill’s passage.
I hope that the Home Secretary will think again about firearms as well. As she will know, last year Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull and her niece Tanya were murdered by Susan’s partner, Michael Atherton, with a shotgun that he was licensed to own. Michael Atherton had a history of violence and abuse towards Susan McGoldrick, and he should never have been allowed to own a gun. Alison’s son, Bobby Tumbull, is campaigning for a change in the law.
The Home Office has rightly strengthened the guidance for gun applications, but it does not go far enough. It relies on interviews with family members who may still be living in fear of abuse. Why should anyone with a history of domestic violence be allowed to own a gun? Why should that guidance not be underpinned by legislation? We cannot legislate in Parliament to prevent every tragedy or every terrible crime, but we can seek to learn lessons when tragedies happen. We can listen to victims and their families, and we can work with them to make things safer in future.
We will not vote against the Bill’s Second Reading, but we think that it needs to be stronger. People want stronger action against antisocial behaviour, rather than the watering down of powers. They want more protection for victims, not just delayed reviews and loopholes for offenders if police resources are tight. They want more action against domestic violence, and more action against dangerous dogs. That requires more action from the Home Office, and more action from the Home Secretary. They need to do more to support communities, and they should do so in this Bill.
I welcome the Bill, and congratulate the Home Secretary on her introduction of it.
Let me begin by making a comment about the issue of forced marriage, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma). My constituency contains a large Kashmiri Muslim community, and I believe that we should not tolerate forced marriages. It is important to separate that issue from the issue of arranged marriages, a process in which people should be supported.
Today, as Members will know, the Home Affairs Committee published a report on the sexual exploitation of children, including street grooming. The Committee’s Chairman, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), said, in what I consider to have been very carefully chosen words,
“Children only have one chance at childhood, once that childhood is stolen by the horrific crime of sexual exploitation, it cannot be returned. Protection of these vulnerable children must be our first priority.”
I am extremely grateful for that timely report, because it puts into context an issue that I believe the Bill can begin to address.
In March this year, Shazad Rehman and Bilal Hussain were imprisoned for a total of 36 years for drugging and raping schoolgirls whom they had picked up on the streets of Keighley. The two men committed some of their hideous offences, unchallenged, in local hotels. More recently, in May, seven men were found guilty at the Old Bailey of 43 charges relating to six victims aged between 11 and 15. The men plied their victims with drink and class A drugs, took them to guesthouses and bed-and-breakfast establishments, and—again, unchallenged —raped and tortured those children.
As my hon. Friend will know, during the grooming inquiry the Home Affairs Committee has heard some harrowing evidence of incidents such as those that he has described. In Oxford, we have found it very difficult to come to terms with the fact that such horrific crimes can happen in our own community. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is time for every area in the United Kingdom to accept that it is not immune from child sexual exploitation, and to ensure that it protects vulnerable children and prosecutes any criminals who seek to target those young children?
I entirely agree. I know from my hon. Friend’s work on the Committee, and from the terrible issues that she has had to face in her constituency, that she understands the situation that confronts many communities.
The investigation to which I referred, and the Keighley conviction, mirrored investigations in Rochdale, Derby and Telford, in that hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments enabled the crime to be committed.
Since the briefing given to me by police officers in Keighley, Detective Chief Inspector Darren Minton from the Bradford safeguarding unit has contacted the police forces of North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, the Met police, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Thames Valley. All have, or have had, numerous or significant numbers of child sexual exploitation cases in which hotels, bed and breakfasts and guest houses have been used.
With the support of my local police officers, who are on the front line trying to tackle these criminals and attempting to protect these children, I am asking the Home Office to consider introducing in the Bill, first, a new police power to require specific hotels or B and Bs to collect the details of identity and proof of relationship of any persons under the age of 18 who book into the accommodation. Secondly, that information should be immediately passed on to the police. The premises would be identified by past intelligence or conviction, or present intelligence or investigation. Authorisation would be given by a county court judge in chambers. It would not be a blanket request—it would be about specific accommodation based on knowledge.
My hon. Friend is being incredibly generous in giving way again. I strongly endorse his proposals. He will be aware that the Home Affairs Committee report found that there was one particular problem which meant that victims fell through the cracks: the failure to share data. The proposal to ensure, wherever we can, that data are shared effectively so that victims do not fall through the cracks should be considered and implemented as soon as possible.
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. I have asked my local police officers whether there are any laws or measures in place that could be used to do what I have proposed. They do not believe that there are such powers in place. However, I am willing to be—
My hon. Friend is making a powerful contribution. Certainly I am happy for the Home Office to take away his proposal and consider it seriously. We will come back to him on the matter, but he has made an important point about the relevance of those places to what is happening in terms of child sexual exploitation. We are happy to look at his proposal.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) in this important debate. I thank him for his kind comments about the Home Affairs Committee’s report on child grooming, which was published this morning. I pay tribute to all members of the Committee, who have worked so hard on the report, especially the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), who originally suggested that the Committee conduct the inquiry and who has been so assiduous in helping us to determine which witnesses should give evidence and in preparing the final report. It would not have been as powerful or important had it not been for what she has done.
I, too, am very interested in the hon. Gentleman’s proposals. He is right that this is one of the areas we have looked at. At the moment, the anecdotal evidence and the evidence of people who see with their own eyes that there is a problem are not sufficient to catch the terrible perpetrators of these horrific crimes. If we had legislation, that would help the situation enormously.
I am glad that there is agreement between the Front-Bench teams that there will be no vote on this measure. I agree that it is an important measure, but I also agree with the shadow Home Secretary that there are ways we can improve the Bill. It is important when we have such Bills that we use the Committee stage to do that. That will help to make it an even stronger and more powerful Bill.
I am glad that the Select Committee had the opportunity to scrutinise the draft Anti-social Behaviour Bill in a number of sessions. That happened not only because that was the decision of the Select Committee but because of the case of Fiona Pilkington, who committed suicide in October 2007 with her daughter after suffering years of abuse from local youths. The Independent Police Complaints Commission found in May 2011 that she had contacted the police 33 times in seven years. They failed to act accordingly and, as a result, she committed suicide with her daughter. I am glad that the new Leicester chief constable has changed things. Simon Cole has made this one of his priorities and we have accepted his assurance that that kind of situation will never happen again. Obviously, if we pass the Bill, that assurance will be even stronger.
Sadly, however, even though we had the case of Fiona Pilkington, four years later we had the inquest into the death of Dr Suzanne Dow, a lecturer in French at Nottingham university, who killed herself in 2011 after suffering antisocial behaviour from the crack house next door to her. The council ignored her pleas for over a year.
In January, the Select Committee recommended that there should be a national backstop of three complaints to set off the community trigger. We believe that that would guard against people such as Fiona Pilkington slipping through the net. Of course the Home Secretary is right: we also have to have a degree of local accountability. That has been one of the great features of her term as Home Secretary: she sets guidelines and a vision, and then she leaves it very much up to local people to complete the vision. She has done that with police and crime commissioners, to which I will come later. However, we believe strongly that, unless we have a national backstop, a figure that everyone could sign up to, there is a risk that locally people could make their own decisions, and we would end up with the trigger not being as great in Devon and Cornwall as it was in Somerset, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. That is why we felt that the trigger was important. I hope that, as it scrutinises the Bill, the Committee will look seriously at the Select Committee’s proposals. I am convinced that they will strengthen the Bill. That was the unanimous view of the Select Committee.
We should also, in looking at the Bill, express our concern about the cuts to youth services. It is right that we should be wary of young people who are involved in antisocial behaviour, but it is also important that we should not stigmatise them. A letter in The Times today was signed by practically everybody who is anybody in the voluntary sector that deals with these issues. It said that an injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance could be used differently in different hands.
The annoyance and nuisance I feel would be different from that felt by someone else. I am 57 years of age this year—[Interruption.] Yes, it is true—just checking whether the House was still awake. The annoyance I feel in my office in Norman Shaw North may be different from that felt by younger Government Members with offices in Norman Shaw North who have just been elected. They may find the nuisance and annoyance not as great as I would because of my age. The same could be said for my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), who has an office next to mine. His threshold may be different even from mine. We should look at the matter because the thresholds are different. It is important to read what those who signed the letter say. At the end they say:
“The coalition and opposition should listen to the call by the cross-party Home Affairs Committee to ‘end the arms race’ against Anti-social Behaviour by setting reasonable limits on the behaviour covered by the new powers.”
I have not quoted that just because they praise the Committee, but because we must look at this. On 7 January this year at 4 o’clock my constituent Rajesh Devaliya was ambushed by four young people in St Mark’s in Leicester, where he lives with his elderly father. The police said the young perpetrators of this crime had nothing else to do. The police were not condoning the crime, of course; they were talking about the cuts to local services in St Mark’s
I warmly welcome what the Home Secretary is proposing in clauses 100 and 101. Clause 100 introduces the new offence of possessing prohibited firearms with intent to supply, and clause 101 increases the penalty for unlawful importation of prohibited firearms from 10 years to life. That is the right thing to do, of course. It was recommended by the Committee, and we are happy to support it, as it will serve to bring to book those who are supplying as well as those who are using.
However, we looked at firearms two-and-a-half years ago, and we are concerned that two-and-a-half years on from our report the Home Secretary has not taken the opportunity this Bill presents to bring together the 34 separate pieces of legislation covering UK gun law. President Obama, in his bid to try to control firearms in the United States, is looking closely at what our country is doing as we have a better record than the United States of America, but it is important that we look at codifying and bringing all this legislation together.
On 17 May the Select Committee recommended criminalising forced marriage. We take the point that it is quite different from arranged marriage. However, I must tell the Home Secretary that I am worried about the allegations database that she set up, which we will look at very closely in our next report. I have many constituents who complain that they are being abused by their spouses and have been tricked into getting married. They make their complaint to the Home Office and nothing happens. They are not informed because of the bizarre belief that they are third parties. I do not believe that someone who goes off to a foreign country and marries somebody there, and then brings them to this country so that they are only here because they brought them in, and who then complains that their spouse has abused the system and tricked them, is a third party. Of course they need to know whether the Home Office has removed them. We have had 28,000 allegations since the Prime Minister’s famous speech in London two years ago, when he asked people to report these issues, and 500 arrests have been made, but still the Home Office cannot tell us how many people have been removed.
I have three final points, and I shall begin with the College of Policing. I know that the Home Secretary is not interested in legacy stuff, because I am sure she will be in post for a long time, but when her legacy is written up, the creation of the College of Policing—which I hope will be called the “Royal College of Policing”, as that will give an impetus and dignity to those we train as police officers—will be seen as an important feature of her new landscape for policing. However, she ought to have ensured that the chair of the college appointed the members of the board or had a part to play in that, rather than appointing all the members of the board and then appointing the chair. I know she had problems filling that post but they have been resolved, and she has now appointed an excellent chair. In order to give the chair greater importance, the chair could perhaps be allowed to work with board members to co-opt additional people on to the board, which is not doing very well in terms of diversity.
I attended the Emily Wilding Davison centenary celebrations with the Home Secretary and you, Mr Speaker, and I heard what the Home Secretary said about diversity. In fact, I think I may even have got one of the T-shirts that were on offer. Diversity is not an apparent feature of the College of Policing board, however. Moreover, I find it extraordinary that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who represents so many police officers, does not sit on the board, whereas the Association of Chief Police Officers does. I have nothing against that organisation sitting on the board, but the commissioner should, too.
The Home Secretary still has not told us who will hold the integrity register for chief constables. She rightly announced that chief constables ought to have a register of gifts they receive and jobs they do, but after all these months she has still not told us where that register is going to sit. In her new landscape, she has so many new organisations to choose from, and one of them—perhaps the College of Policing, perhaps Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary—needs to hold the register in order to give it credibility. Although the Home Secretary did not like the idea of a register for police and crime commissioners, the Select Committee published one. PCCs were very upset, but the fact is we just published what they put on their websites or what they told us to put in. If we have registers for MPs, peers and chief constables, we should have one for PCCs. We must not leave that until the next election.
The Home Secretary seemed a little puzzled about the cost of the certificate of knowledge in policing, or perhaps she was saying that is up to the College of Policing. We should, however, look carefully at the cost of a certificate, which is £1,000.
On the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Home Secretary has done everything we could have asked her to do in respect of our last report on that organisation. She did not quite deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), however.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning the IPCC, because it enables me, if he will indulge me in this, to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood). I have checked, and in cases of suspected criminality the extension of the IPCC oversight of private sector contractors will allow them to be interviewed under caution. I am grateful for the opportunity to put that on the record.
I am delighted that the Home Secretary has got that on the record, and I know that the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon will also be very pleased.
The Committee said that the IPCC was woefully under-equipped and hamstrung by a lack of powers and resources. The Home Secretary has not given it all the powers we would have wanted, but she has certainly given it a lot of them. She does need to deal with the issue or resources, however. People tend to refer conduct issues to the IPCC. It is dealing with thousands of cases as a result of Hillsborough. It has an excellent new chair in Dame Anne Owers, and it has shown a real commitment to do good work in this area, but it cannot do that work unless it has the necessary resources to finish the job. We thank the Home Secretary for giving these powers, but we also say, “Let’s have the resources to go with them.”
Finally, on extradition, we again have what the Select Committee recommended in our report on the subject. The forum bar has been enacted, and this will take it further. We need to stop having cases such as those involving Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer, which I know took up a huge amount of the Home Secretary’s time and the time of this House. I still think it should be up to the Home Secretary to make that decision, rather than give it to judges, because I think there are other considerations to take into account. I do not think that she or her successor if Labour wins the next election, the current shadow Home Secretary, are very keen to have the power to stop people’s extradition, but she is the Home Secretary and she should be making these decisions, not a judge. That question is for another day, however.
In the end, we have a Bill that enacts a lot of what the Select Committee has recommended over the years. I think we need to improve parts of it, as the shadow Home Secretary has said, but I am glad we are not pressing the House to a Division on this important measure this evening.
I suspect that the Home Secretary has recently become used to me standing here criticising things she has done and highlighting where we have disagreed; I am delighted that today will not be another of those days. I am able to support much of what is in the Bill, and it is a great pleasure to follow the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), and to agree with him that it is excellent that it does not appear that there will be a Division on Second Reading, and that we can therefore proceed.
There are good things in the Bill, such as the changes to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, bringing in private providers, which the Liberal Democrats have wanted for some time; stronger control sanctions against forced marriage; controls on firearms; the introduction of the College of Policing, which will be important for evidence-based policing; controls on dangerous dogs; and particularly protections for guide dogs, which I shall talk about later.
At the core of the Bill, however, are the antisocial behaviour provisions. It is particularly welcome that the Bill underwent pre-legislative scrutiny by the Select Committee. I thank the Home Secretary for taking on board some of the suggestions that it made, although she did not take on board all of them. The principles are surely absolutely right. The simplification of the toolkit used to remedy antisocial behaviour, which can blight lives, even at a relatively low level, is welcome. It will produce a quicker and more coherent response, empowering police, local authorities and other agencies, so that they can deal with the problems far more effectively and efficiently. This issue is serious: there were 2.3 million reports of antisocial behaviour in 2012, although I suspect the vast majority of such incidents are never actually reported. We need a simple scheme to deal with that.
I am also pleased to see the direction of travel and the move away from the automatic criminalisation of breaches, which in many cases gave ASBOs a poor reputation. We are moving a lot further and I am pleased also to see the introduction of positive requirements to try to help people out of the problem—we have argued for that for a long time and it has cross-party support. The Home Affairs Committee highlighted that the positive requirements
“can help to achieve an outcome that satisfies victims and helps to mend the ways of perpetrators without exposing them to the criminal justice system.”
That has to be what we all want. It was the aim of the acceptable behaviour contracts, and it is the right direction in which to be travelling. It also fits in well with the Government’s general approach to the criminal justice system, with a focus on rehabilitation. Rather than focusing on how we punish people, there is a focus on how we can prevent problems from happening in the first place. I am very pleased about all that. I could talk at great length about how excellent some of the provisions are, but the Home Secretary has done that, as have others.
Further improvements could still be made in a couple of areas, and there are particular concerns about how the system will deal with young people. In looking at antisocial behaviour the focus has always ended up on young people; it is many people’s first encounter with the criminal justice system. Some 40% of ASBOs were issued to 10 to 17-year-olds, who comprise only 13% of the population, and a very large proportion of those people have mental health problems and learning difficulties, which is a serious concern.
That situation was acknowledged in the antisocial behaviour White Paper, which stated:
“There are strong links between anti-social or criminal behaviour and certain health needs.”
However, the Bill does not yet contain enough to strengthen early intervention or ensure that a full health and social assessment is made to go with any of the orders that are available. I accept that that is not all about legislation; I hope that in Committee, or through comments from the Home Secretary, progress will be made to strengthen the arrangements, because we want to help people with mental health problems or learning difficulties, rather than putting them through an inappropriate route.
As I mentioned when I intervened on the Home Secretary, I remain concerned about the naming and shaming of young people. Clause 17 would disapply section 49 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, which restricts reports on proceedings in which young people are concerned, in respect of injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance and criminal behaviour orders. That goes against the presumption of anonymity for children in criminal proceedings and is likely to hinder their successful rehabilitation, particularly in this age where people can say things online that can stay with people for ever. We want a chance for a young person who made an error at 14 to be able to have that removed very quickly. Article 40 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child clearly requires that a child accused of, or recognised as having infringed the law, must
“have his or her privacy fully respected at all stages of the proceedings.”
Both the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Committee have expressed grave concerns about the privacy of children subject to ASBOs, and I am concerned about what may happen.
I know the Government’s intention, as they have been clear in their response to the Home Affairs Committee and I am grateful for that. The intention is not simply a blanket naming and shaming of young people, and I am pleased to be reassured about that. However, I want the right clarification to be given to judges. The Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne) made the point well when he gave evidence to us, but there may well be some special cases where it is simply unreasonable to prevent a child from being able to do something if we cannot tell anybody that we have prevented them from doing it. I accept that there are such cases, but they should be seen as the exception. I want to develop the point implied by the Home Secretary that judges should use such an approach rarely and sparingly, where there is a good case for doing so. We want a
“short, focused nudge for young people to set them on the right track, not a millstone that will weigh around their necks for years to come.”
We have to ensure that the right guidance is in place, so that the provisions are used only when they have to be. Fitting in with the positive requirements will help with some of that.
Many of the organisations we spoke to welcomed the general direction towards positive requirements but were concerned about the extra monitoring and the burdens of that. The Chair of the Select Committee was right to express concerns about the funding available. This is the best direction in which to go, but we need clarity on the funding. The Local Government Association, of which I have the great honour to be vice-president, has said:
“Clarity is needed from the Home Office on the cost of imposing ‘positive requirements’”
If they are not available, that could lead to breaches and to the whole system falling into the sort of disrepute that we saw with ASBOs. That is particularly so for children, where parental support may not be sufficient in many cases.
On one issue there has been an arms race, with every Government trying to change the antisocial regime, lowering the standard of proof and widening the definitions. The Home Affairs Committee unanimously concluded;
“This arms race must end.”
The current definition of antisocial behaviour is behaviour that
“caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress”.
Clause 1 requires only that the conduct appears to be “capable” of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person, as the Chair of the Select Committee pointed out. I share the concerns of the Association of Chief Police Officers that that lower threshold could unnecessarily stigmatise and criminalise young people in particular. It is a broad definition. I dare say that I have occasionally done things that are “capable” of annoying other people in this Chamber; I am sure we all have. [Interruption.] I am delighted to have the support of the Chair of the Select Committee. I would hope that the definition is not intended to cover such things; there has to be some sort of stronger level involved. I am pleased to see the move away from criminalisation, although some criminal sanctions will still be available, but I remain concerned about that definition.
The safeguards in the Bill about criminalisation go a bit further. A court has to consider an injunction to be “just and convenient”, but there is nothing about proportionality or the need to demonstrate necessity. The Committee concluded:
“For the IPNA, the threshold of ‘conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance’ is far too broad and could be applied even if there were no actual nuisance or annoyance whatsoever. A proportionality test and a requirement that either ‘intent or recklessness’ be demonstrated should be attached to the IPNA, as well as the requirement ‘that such an injunction is necessary to protect relevant persons from further anti-social acts by the respondent’.”
That was agreed unanimously by the Committee, and I hope that the Home Secretary will examine the case for that more carefully and consider whether we could have some clarity. None of us wants these provisions to be used to deal with trivial behaviour. I have known constituents who do not like the fact that young people sit on a bench, but I hope that we would not want to introduce controls to deal with that if those young people are doing nothing else.
I also have a few concerns about the provisions at the beginning of part 5, which would give landlords the power to evict a tenant when the tenant or a member of their household had been convicted of a serious offence nearby or of various other provisions. No flexibility is given for the judge to decide on that; it is an obligatory process. My concern is about the effects on the rest of a family when one of its members, be it a child or an adult, does something that we all agree is unacceptable. In particular, children may be made homeless as a result of the actions of other people that they could not control. Such concerns have been expressed by the Children’s Commissioner, and I hope that the Home Secretary will consider clarifying the arrangements, by changing where the grounds would be listed, to ensure that judges at least have the discretion to say, “In this case, it does not seem appropriate.” The LGA has highlighted that these powers could
“result in displacement of the problem rather than solution”—
none of us would want to leave children homeless. I hope that the Government will examine that.
To conclude, I wish to talk about the issues relating to dangerous dogs. I want to emphasise how good it is that we are making progress, particularly on the serious issue of guide dogs. There were about 240 dog attacks on guide dogs between March 2011 to February 2013, which is about 10 a month. Last year, I met some of my visually impaired constituents and found out what it was like to have a guide dog: I was blindfolded and had to follow a dog around Cambridge. I spoke to my constituents about some of their cases. The big problem is that guide dogs are trained not to fight back or defend themselves; they are trained not to run away, but to get their owner away safely. My constituents told me about some brutal cases where the dog had been savaged in awful ways—their guts were hanging out, and so on—but had still tried to lead its owner away. Such attacks were also devastating for the owner, because it takes a long time to get used to a dog and they cannot simply be replaced; the emotional cost is huge, too. Five of the dogs attacked had to be withdrawn, costing the Guide Dogs charity £170,000—money that it simply does not have. I am really pleased that the first clause in part 7 makes it clear that attacks on guide dogs will be considered aggravated attacks, but we need to go much further.
There are other bits of the Bill that I could talk about at great length, but some of them have already been touched on, and I am sure that they will be considered in Committee. This is a good Bill, but it could be tweaked slightly further to make it an excellent Bill. I am sure that that will be looked at in Committee.
I visited Glastonbury post office, which has been doing some fairly visionary work on what happens to post office staff when they are making deliveries. The stuff made two points. First, being attacked by a dog in the communal area of a block of flats is not covered by the Bill. Secondly, there may be no remedy for those who are bitten while putting a letter or packet through a letterbox; if someone trespasses with their fingers, effectively, they may not be covered. I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees that the Secretary of State might take this opportunity to remedy that drafting problem and make sure that the issue is sorted out.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment; I am sure that the Home Secretary heard it. What my hon. Friend says seems sensible; we want to protect postal workers when they are posting leaflets. I have not checked the wording of the Bill, but if it is a problem, I hope that that can be addressed. The same would apply to those of us delivering leaflets. I have yet to be bitten by a dog, but I know that it happens to many of us too often. I hope that the Home Secretary will look at those suggestions to see whether we can sharpen up the provisions and make it an excellent Bill that we can be proud of for many years to come.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). I should like to associate myself with his concluding remarks about guide dogs, and to commend the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association for the spirited campaign it has led on the subject.
It is a great pleasure to speak on a subject of obvious concern to everybody in the country. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, who spoke earlier, I have been in the House since 1997, and I can genuinely say that antisocial behaviour has been at the centre of my casework, both in terms of concerns that people have raised, and of the relief and respite that has been brought about. This is a continuing process; no Government have a monopoly on virtue or effectiveness. However, I want to emphasise that the Labour Government made significant strides in combating antisocial behaviour, and in putting victims at the heart of the justice system; I recall the surprise at that in more conservative legal circles in the early days of that Administration. Mercifully, we have moved on since then.
The controls put in place for statutory partnerships under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 have been enormously important to us in Blackpool, where partnerships between the police, local authorities and others to tackle crime and disorder have worked extremely successfully. I want to make a point that is specific to my constituents and to the town: like many seaside and coastal towns, and many inland towns with a high degree of transience, in Blackpool issues associated with houses in multiple occupation and the problems faced by a minority of rogue landlords and rogue tenants have been very much to the fore. As the House of Commons research paper makes clear, antisocial behaviour injunctions have been valued by social landlords; they have been used successfully against tenants in attempts to tackle vandalism, violence, noise, harassment, and threatening and un-neighbourly behaviour.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary made clear, none of this can be done without resources. That is why it was very important that more than 12,000 extra police, and more than 16,000 police community support officers, were introduced under the Labour Government, including in Lancashire, which has particularly benefited from the beefed-up powers that were provided.
What are the issues that any antisocial behaviour Bill should at least touch on and try to address for my constituents in Blackpool? First, there is the question of disorder, particularly in the centre of the town. As many people know, we have millions of visitors every year. Most of them are a delight, but a small proportion are not. The same is true of residents. Problems such as alcohol, petty crime, drugs and general threatening behaviour have always loomed large. Secondly, the issue of houses in multiple occupation is really important. I praise the work done over a long period by the public protection department of Blackpool council, ably headed by Tim Coglan, all who have worked with him, and the cabinet member with responsibility for housing, Councillor Gillian Campbell.
I should like to quote from a couple of letters that I received recently that underline some of our problems. A hotelier—it should be borne in mind that there are some 600 hotels and guesthouses in my constituency—said:
“I run a hotel with my partner situated…in South Shore. We unfortunately have a HMO adjoining us…and one opposite…Both properties have drug and alcohol problems and are situated with ourselves in the ‘Holiday Zone’.
We persistently suffer ‘users’ calling up at the flats for drugs, the police are constantly parking outside our hotel to visit our neighbours. The flat adjoining our hotel on the first floor have dogs, who are rarely taken out of the flat.”
The good news in this story is that Blackpool council, together with other organisations, is working on this. I quote the letter I received from the council:
“Officers of the Housing Enforcement Team have been tackling issues...one of the problem tenants has already been evicted and the managing agents…are in the process of re-housing the tenants with the dogs.”
Another letter from another part of the town mentions the importance of alley gates, which have been a particularly effective way of dealing with antisocial behaviour in Blackpool.
On HMOs and antisocial behaviour, including in alleyways, are there not already powers available to councils? The issue is whether councils are using the powers they already have, rather than whether new powers are required under the Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I do not disagree with him on the powers, which are already there. What is important is enforcement by councils, and the resources that are available to them. Sadly, Blackpool council’s ability to do the stuff it would like to on alley gates has been severely hindered over the past couple of years by substantial cuts in funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Police and community support officers are crucial, particularly now, when we have problems not just with houses in multiple occupation, but with houses that are bought at low prices when owner-occupiers move out, and landlords rent them out to problem families. I have many examples of that. I pay tribute to the activities undertaken in our town by the police and the community together. I am thinking of a group, ably chaired by Mr Dave Blacker, who are concerned about their PCSOs. Issues of funding and what might be available from Government have come to the fore.
Other really important issues are vandalism—Stanley park and other parts of the town have been badly affected by it recently—metal theft, the protection of war memorials and dumping. Those are all issues on which PCSOs can make an important contribution. That is why we need to look critically at what the Government are doing in the Bill. The crime prevention injunction—the proposed replacement for an antisocial behaviour order—is significantly weaker. A breach of the new injunction is not a criminal offence and will not result in a criminal record. Other proposed measures against antisocial behaviour also appear weak. The Government’s proposed community trigger has seemed weak in the areas in which it has been trialled, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary made clear earlier. As her colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) said, breach of ASBOs was a criminal offence; breach of injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance is not. Nor does the Bill guarantee a response from the police or the council. It guarantees a review. In my region, the north-west, police in Manchester recorded nearly 26,000 cases of antisocial behaviour in 2012-13, but the trigger was activated a mere four times.
When it comes to tackling antisocial behaviour, the elephant in the room is the way the Government have cut the police budget. Police community support officers, who are so often at the forefront in tackling day-to-day antisocial behaviour, have been hit particularly hard. That has led to Lancashire losing 9% of our front-line officers in the first two years of this Tory-led Government, and 500 police officers.
I shall touch briefly on knife crime, which has been a key issue in Blackpool. The Government have, to be fair, introduced a new crime of “threatening with article with blade” in public or on school premises, but the Prime Minister told MPs in recent months that the Justice Secretary was reviewing the powers available to the courts to deal with knife possession, and the Lord Chancellor has said he is revisiting the whole topic of knife crime. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary rightly said, this is a Christmas tree Bill. It is unfortunate that the outcome of those reviews has not informed the detail of the Bill.
The topic of firearms has been touched on. I entirely associate myself with the comments that have been made about the dangers presented by people with a history of domestic violence. We know that only too well in Blackpool from the Justice for Jane campaign, which concerned the case of a young woman who was tragically murdered by her partner, who had a history of domestic threatening and violence. Such ticking time bombs need monitoring, and the Government should be monitoring some of them far more carefully and providing the legislation that would make that possible.
Lastly, I return to the subject of dangerous dogs. I have not been convinced by what the Home Secretary said. Many other organisations—not just the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross and the Select Committee—feel that the proposals, rather like my 15-year-old Jack Russell-Chihuahua cross, are somewhat toothless. Dangerous dogs are a real problem and they need a special and specific remedy. I know that only too well from my former colleague in the House, Joan Humble, who almost lost the tip of her finger when canvassing in Blackpool in 2012. These Government measures, as has been said, are simply too weak. Instead of these piecemeal proposals, the introduction of dog control notices would be wide ranging and enforceable in the sorts of areas that have been discussed.
I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech immensely. Does he agree that there is a need for a much wider look at issues such as dog breeding? A raft of related issues needs to be addressed properly. Does he agree that taking all the dog-related measures out of this Christmas tree Bill and consolidating them in a single piece of legislation would be a better way forward?
I hear what my hon. Friend says. In an ideal world he would be correct, but unfortunately we heard from the Home Secretary this evening her extreme reluctance to admit that anything other than the general and mixed powers presented in the Bill would do the business. I hope that in Committee and on Report, some of the issues can be addressed far more forcefully than they were by the Home Secretary this evening. In particular, the public spaces protection orders are too sweeping and vague in many respects to deal with what is proposed. The Battersea Dogs and Cats Home briefing makes these points far more eloquently than I can. It also makes the point that dogs that pose no danger to public safety should remain with an owner of good character while an application to the court for an exemption takes place.
About 5,000 postal workers every year are attacked by dogs. Seventeen people, including children, have been killed in dog attacks since 2005, including one in Blackpool in 2009. I welcome, as do Members in all parts of the House, the Government’s proposal to extend prosecution and to extend responsibility to private property, but given what has been said in the House this evening I wish the Government would take the opportunity to think more carefully and substantially about the broader range of dog control measures I have mentioned. They might also consider what many people see as a good—or should I say poor?—example of what happens when we legislate in haste: the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
I mentioned my dog earlier. Sadly, her partner died earlier this year. She was a Staffie-Collie cross, and I am sure she would have agreed, as I do, with what the Communication Workers Union said: that we should be legislating for deed and not for breed. I hope the Government will take the opportunity to remedy that, if not in the Bill, then at some point.
I am delighted to contribute to this Second Reading debate, primarily because, as a number of speakers have highlighted, antisocial behaviour blights the lives of our communities and our constituencies. One of the things that strikes me when dealing with constituency matters relating to antisocial behaviour is that it prevents blameless and innocent victims—citizens—from feeling safe not just in their own homes and their own streets, but in their own communities, which is why I welcome the broad thrust of the Bill and wholeheartedly endorse the Government’s approach to supporting victims and preventing antisocial behaviour.
For many years under the previous Government a vast number of measures were introduced, some of which were well-meaning, but were profoundly ineffective in tackling some of the problems that we have heard about today. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, mentioned the death of Fiona Pilkington a few years back, which shocked the nation. The horrific story and her plight demonstrated how bad antisocial behaviour could become and the distress that it cause to victims. That tragic case highlighted the fact that the authorities let this family down and failed to do enough to bring an end to the torment that the family suffered.
Despite all the legislation and the introduction of ASBOs, as we heard at the time and as we heard again from the Chairman of the Select Committee, the inquest into those deaths found that the calls to the police and to associated bodies were not joined up and were not prioritised, and that there were problems in gathering and processing information. That was among the most serious cases, with severe consequences for the victims. Importantly, it highlighted the wider issues of the approach taken to antisocial behaviour and the case for wider reform, which the Bill addresses.
The Home Secretary mentioned the community trigger. Although I am pleased to say that my constituency is generally considered a safe place to live, there are certain areas in the town and in the surrounding villages which, unsurprisingly, have been blighted by antisocial behaviour. These occurrences are serious and should be treated as such because they are distressing for those of my constituents who are affected. Equally distressing is the sense among those communities of the paralysis of the authorities, which seem either reluctant or powerless to act, or are bogged down in bureaucracy and therefore unable to seek prompt resolution. At the end of the day, our constituents want to know that something is being done and action is being taken.
I want to highlight some recent cases in my constituency. Families using the park in Maldon road in Witham have been alarmed by groups of young men using the children’s play space inappropriately. It is summer and parents cannot let their children play because men are drinking and behaving in an abusive, intimidating and frightening way in the park. One constituent was so shocked by what happened that she reported to me that the men had been calling over to girls, had tried to involve them in conversation, and had offered them alcohol. We have had recent cases of inappropriate behaviour involving alcohol and persuasion by men in the wrong way. What was worrying for my constituent was the response by the police. They were pretty ineffective, remarking that because these individuals were foreign, they did not understand that it was inappropriate behaviour, and that they were in the park as there was no designated area for them to drink in. That is simply not appropriate. Rather than taking action and making the area safe, the authorities were reluctant to act. Many of us here are parents, and I was disgusted by these events. I am pursuing the case with the local authority and the police because I have been left in no doubt that action should be taken.
Another constituent let me know of a further incident where at 10 pm one evening they called the police as noise from these young men in the park was causing her and her family significant disturbance. They called again at 11 pm as they were being kept awake, but it was not until 1 am that the police arrived on the scene. There are many other such incidents not just in my constituency but throughout the country. At least 2.3 million similar incidents are reported to the police each year. The introduction of the community trigger will help communities that feel let down by the authorities to compel those authorities to take their concerns seriously and to act. I would go further as a Member of Parliament and work with the local authority and other community groups to encourage them to have their voices heard, and the community trigger has an important role to play in that.
My approach to crime and criminal justice matters is to put the victim first. I have been particularly outspoken in the past about the disproportionality in the criminal justice system when victims unfairly have to fight to have their voices heard. For too long the justice system has been skewed in favour of offenders, focusing on help and support for them while neglecting those who are most affected by their crimes. Conservative Ministers deserve credit for refocusing attention on victims, and the Bill goes some way to addressing past deficiencies in the justice system. Victims want action taken promptly to protect them from antisocial behaviour, and they also want to be involved in decisions taken about how the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts deal with criminals. I therefore welcome the duty to consult victims that clauses 95 and 96 place on prosecutors who are minded to offer an offender a conditional caution or a youth conditional caution. The requirement to attach to the conditions reasonable requests made by the victim is a positive step forward. It is disappointing that this has not happened already and there is much more that we can do, but this is a welcome step forward.
The community remedy is also a welcome way to involve victims in the restorative justice process, so that it works for them. However, I seek an assurance from the Minister that no victim will be compelled to go through the restorative justice approach if they do not wish to. Victims can be retraumatised and have to go through a great deal of hurt as a result of that process.
On restorative justice, the hon. Lady will know from the all-party victims and witnesses of crime group that we co-chair that restorative justice can mean different things to different people. Does she agree that perhaps in this Bill, but certainly somewhere, there should be a clear definition of restorative justice?
There is no doubt that restorative justice can mean a range of different things, and there should be a much wider discussion about this. Parliament is best placed to consider this and we should make the victims groups that we work with part of this discussion.
I would welcome an assurance that where a crime has been committed and there is sufficient evidence to take the matter to court, police and prosecutors will proceed with a prosecution if that is what the victim wants. I raise this because many victims are satisfied and have closure once an offender has been brought to court and convicted, rather than have informal action taken against them.
Strong action is also needed on retail crime. Businesses, their owners and those who work in them can be subjected to quite horrific incidents of antisocial behaviour. I say that as someone who has grown up in a family business and seen at first hand how intimidating individuals and groups can be when they target a high street or independent shop and behave in an obscene way. Shopkeepers work long hours and are often under considerable stress and pressure. They need to be supported, and the community trigger will be a useful tool for them.
I urge the Government to look again at clause 133 on low value shoplifting. Owners of small shops in particular will be concerned about what they will see as a downgrading in the treatment of thefts of a value of below £200. Requiring that these be dealt with by magistrates courts and encouraging the use of fixed penalty notices and restorative justice methods can detract from the serious nature of the offence. As well as the stress and pressure, there is also the matter of the cost to the business. More often than not shopkeepers install CCTV and spend a lot of time dealing with the police and providing evidence. Small shopkeepers who may have invested considerably in security measures are already disillusioned with the police responses to crime, and theft has a serious impact on their profit margins. Shop thefts account for about 83% of crime against the retail sector, and the Home Office has estimated that there were approximately 4.1 million incidents of shoplifting in 2012 alone.
Most of the perpetrators will be serial and repeat offenders, so when they are caught, victims and businesses should expect some of these offenders to face the full force of the law, otherwise they will just carry on offending. Less than half of the fixed penalty notices issued for shop theft in 2011 have been paid in full by offenders. Average thefts are valued at £88 and the majority of these thefts are of goods valued up to £25. Introducing the £200 threshold into law will mean that it is possible for almost all of those caught shoplifting to be dealt with outside of court. What kind of message does that send out to hardworking shopkeepers and people who invest in their local economy and generate jobs and growth in their own family?
Just as the Government are giving victims a greater say in how to deal with antisocial behaviour, so we should be empowering shopkeepers and businesses on our high streets, in our town centres and on parades of shops in our estates so that they can get the full support and protection they need from the police and councils to have a say in how offenders are treated. I hope that the Government will look again at that clause.
Finally, I would like the Minister to consider using the Bill to help businesses and individuals affected by Travellers staying on their land without permission, which is a form of antisocial behaviour. There have been a number of incidents in my constituency over recent bank holiday weekends—surprise, surprise—that have highlighted the need to put stronger measures in place. Last month a number of vehicles arrived on the Eastways industrial estate in Witham. Although the police eventually moved them on within two days, they caused immense disruption to local businesses operating on the site. They left behind litter and gas bottles and caused a lot of damage and vandalism to the site. There were also reports of aggressive attitudes shown towards business managers and nuisance behaviour. Those businesses are creating jobs and growth locally. They should not be subjected to such awful behaviour and delays. It took two days to have them removed. Businesses lost thousands of pounds and incurred thousands of pounds in damages, and supplies and deliveries were delayed.
I hope that the Minister can look at ways to use the Bill to strengthen the voice of businesses and communities to prevent such incidents from occurring not only in my constituency, but up and down the country, and to take a firm and reasonable stance to individuals who behave in such a way.
I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate, particularly as it touches on an issue that is incredibly close to my heart. Before coming to that point, I know that many right hon. and hon. Members have addressed, or will address, some of the wider measures the Bill is concerned with. Although I welcome some of those measures, I have a number of concerns about the Government’s plans for tackling antisocial behaviour. In particular, I am worried that the Bill will make it harder, not easier, for communities to deal with and combat antisocial behaviour effectively.
We discovered only this weekend that red tape introduced in the Bill will cost police and local councils at least £14 million to get CCTV. As I mentioned in an intervention on the Home Secretary—the point is worth sharing in more detail—Liverpool’s City Watch team has used state-of-the-art CCTV both as a deterrent and to identify and convict those who commit crimes and antisocial behaviour offences. It is a very advanced system and it has been highly effective. As a result, Liverpool is now one of the safest cities in the country, according to the UK Statistics Authority. We often have delegations—not only from across the country but from across Europe—who visit the facility and meet the operators, who are highly trained and technical, to see what they are doing and how it might be replicated elsewhere. Given that success, I echo the sentiment I expressed before: it would be such a shame if other local authorities that need CCTV or want to advance their systems were unable to follow that good example. I have every confidence that Opposition Front Benchers will address those concerns in Committee.
I will focus the rest of my remarks on the measures in the Bill for tackling dangerous dogs, which are covered in part 7. Perhaps it is fate, design or just pure coincidence that it is 22 years to the day since the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 received its Second Reading in this House. That was a very long time ago, and it has become clear since, particularly over the past 10 years, that the legislation has not been up to the job. The issue was first raised with me in my constituency just before I was elected three years ago, after the tragic death of John Paul Massey, who was just four years old, in the run-up to the general election. His death really affected the whole community—some members of my community are still very much affected. I have worked closely with his mother, Angela, to raise these issues with the Government. It happened on 30 November 2009. Angela has been incredibly stoic and brave in campaigning on the issue so that no other family has to go through what her family have gone through. Angela came with John Paul Massey’s father and representatives of many other organisations about a year ago to deliver a letter to the Prime Minister highlighting their concerns about the legislation as it stands. I have been compelled by Angela’s incredible bravery to take up her case and ensure that no one else suffers as she has.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I know that those words will have been heard by Angela and that they will be very welcome and kindly received.
This really is an issue that transcends party politics. I have worked with many Members on both sides of the House who have campaigned on the issue. It does not discriminate between urban and rural areas; it affects all our constituencies. Many people have been campaigning on the issue for far longer than I have; I was elected only three years ago. It was actually the first thing I spoke about in the House. Many people outside the House have worked tirelessly on the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) mentioned Dave Joyce, of the Communication Workers Union, who works so hard to raise the issue with Members on both sides of the House on behalf of his members, the postal workers who deliver our mail everyday. Claire Robinson of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals works incredibly hard on the issue. Organisations including the Dogs Trust, the National Dog Warden Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Blue Cross and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home have worked collectively to raise the profile of the issue with the Government and to see some urgent action.
The previous Government initiated a comprehensive consultation on what could be done to promote responsible dog ownership and combat dog attacks on people and other animals. It is regrettable that it has taken three years for the Government to respond to that consultation, which concluded in June 2010, and bring forward the measures we are discussing today.
On that point, one thing that really concerns me is that not only has it taken that time to get to this stage with the draft legislation, but in that time we have seen measures relating to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995 introduced specifically to exclude dog attacks.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has been working hard with the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, as have I, as a member of USDAW, to raise the profile of that issue. It is highly regrettable that the Government have chosen to exclude people who have been attacked by dogs from the criminal injuries compensation scheme. I hope that they will reconsider that.
I wish to welcome some of the measures the Government are bringing forward. As the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) mentioned, the fact that the Government now recognise that attacks on assistance dogs should be acknowledged as a very specific crime is to be welcomed. Many organisations, including the guide dogs trust and the Royal National Institute of Blind People, have been working tirelessly on behalf of the visually impaired community to highlight the fact that at least 10 assistance dogs are attacked every month. Most people do not know that a guide dog costs around £50,000 over its lifetime, and that is all charitable money because no support is received from the Government. If a guide dog is attacked, the repercussions and implications for the person the dog is there to support are far reaching, so I welcome the fact that the Government are addressing that in the Bill.
The law is also being extended to cover attacks that take place on private property. We know that the vast majority of attacks happen in someone’s home, in a front or back garden, so it is right that that loophole is being closed. We have heard from other Members specifically about the attacks on postal workers. About 5,000 postal workers are attacked every year, and they will most certainly be thankful for this measure. I had not been aware that since 2011 4,100 working days have been lost at Royal Mail owing to injuries incurred through dog attacks on our postmen and women, and that has cost Royal Mail approximately £400,000. It is not only postal workers who have been attacked on private property; so have our emergency services, social workers, telecomm operators and health visitors, many of whom put themselves at risk every day when they enter the homes of the public. I welcome the fact that the Government are going to do something to address this.
I also welcome the Government’s plans on compulsory microchipping by 2016. There is in our country a significant and growing problem with stray dogs. I meet many owners who are separated from their pets, and having a microchip helps them to be reunited. However, much more needs to be done if the horrific attacks are to be stamped out. Officials have estimated that more than 200,000 people are bitten or attacked by a dog in England every year. That is an absolutely staggering figure. Because I am involved in a campaign to raise the profile of this issue, I receive an e-mail at least once a week from someone somewhere in the country who has been affected by a dog attack. I should like to mention just one that has been reported today in the Liverpool Echo.
Theo Reynolds is three years old, and his life changed for ever just a few weeks ago after he suffered a vicious attack while out walking with his dad down a Liverpool street. The dog went for him and bit off his toe. Doctors attempted to reattach it but were unfortunately unsuccessful. Every year, our NHS spends more than £3.5 million treating injuries sustained in dog attacks such as the one that Theo suffered. What is most harrowing is that the victims of these attacks are so often children, who go on to suffer not just the physical consequences but the long-term psychological and emotional effects. I have spoken to many parents whose children are now unable to go out or enter a park or a playground because of the impact that a dog attack has had on their life.
I commend my hon. Friend for her speech. I have met a father whose young child was playing on a lovely day in a park and found an animal running in circles round the playground time and again, completely out of control. That child had their ear ripped off. Beyond the legislation, there is an onus on the owners to take responsibility for their dogs.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He tells a story that I have heard too many times. When we talk about dog attacks, we have to talk about responsible dog ownership. Lots of people say that they feel they may not have the skills or the expertise best to look after their pet, and that is one of the things that the Government should seriously consider. The example that my hon. Friend gave and the examples that have been cited by others illustrate why we need to give a range of powers to the police, local authorities and our fantastic dog wardens, who will prevent these attacks from happening in the first place. I am seriously concerned that the Bill as it stands is far too weak. I share the analysis of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which said that these plans are woefully inadequate. Where is the support for owners to provide them with the education they need best to look after their pet? Where is there anything in this Bill that will properly prevent dog attacks, specifically, from happening in the first place?
I hope that the Home Secretary will listen again to the many calls to include dog control notices in the Bill, because the wider, non-dog-specific community protection notices, criminal behaviour orders and crime prevention injunctions that it will introduce do not cut it and will take far too long to implement. A dog control notice would enforce muzzling a dog and keeping it on a lead wherever it is in a place to which the public have access, and the owner and their dog having to attend and complete a training course if that is felt to be necessary. It would ensure on-the-spot action before the behaviour of the dog or the owner escalates. It would be a more immediate measure than the lengthy, bureaucratic processes that the Bill will introduce, which will take far too long and I fear will be implemented after something very serious has happened. This approach has already been used in Scotland and has been endorsed by the EFRA Committee. Many people, including those at the Dogs Trust, believe it is an effective means of ensuring responsible dog ownership. We desperately need early intervention and prevention, and they are what are lacking.
When our predecessors debated these issues 22 years ago, one name that featured prominently was that of 11-year-old Kelly Lynch, who was tragically mauled to death by two Rottweilers in 1989. Sadly, two decades on, there have been far too many more cases of families who have lost loved ones to similar attacks. Just two weeks ago another name was added to that list—that of Clifford Clarke, a 79-year-old man who was set upon and mauled to death in his garden while cooking a barbecue. Overall, according to research by the Communication Workers Union, 16 people have been killed in dangerous dog attacks since 2005. Sadly, the action that we are debating today will come too late for them and their relatives. I have come to know some of those families, and I know that other hon. Members have too. Those I have met have expressed just two wishes: that they could have their loved ones back and that no family should have to suffer a loss such as theirs.
As we consider that plea, it is only right that the names of the people who have lost their lives are recorded: Liam Eames, aged one; Cadey-Lee Deacon, aged five months; Ellie Lawrenson, aged five; Archie-Lee Hirst, aged one; James Redhill, aged 78; Stephen Hudspeth, aged 33; Jaden Mack, aged three months; Andrew Walker, aged 21; John Paul Massey, aged four; Zumer Ahmed, aged 18 months; Barbara Williams, aged 52; Leslie Trotman, aged 83; Gloria Knowles, aged 71; Harry Harper, aged eight days; Jade Lomas-Anderson, aged 14; and Clifford Clarke, aged 79. I hope that the Government will remember those people when this Bill is going through Parliament and consider what more can be done to prevent any other name from being added to that list.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, it might be helpful if I inform Members that eight Members in the Chamber have indicated that they want to speak. May I ask each speaker to take no more than 10 minutes, which includes interventions, because that will share out the time between those still wishing to speak?
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) spoke very powerfully about emotive and clearly tragic cases. I am sure that all Members of the House join her in paying tribute to the families of those victims. She is right that the dangerous dogs legislation introduced by a previous Government did not achieve the desired outcomes; I think that most of us would accept that.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, therefore, I would like to pay tribute to a piece of legislation introduced by Labour. The role of police community support officers in tackling antisocial behaviour has been much maligned over the years, and my party opposed the measure at the time, yet when I look at the work of Aivaras Krochalev and others PCSOs in my constituency who have done so much work, particularly with parts of the community where English is not the first language, it is clear that many of them have helped in freeing up officer time and delivering value for money on the front line rather than sitting behind desks at headquarters.
That is why I welcome the Home Secretary’s measures in the Bill to strengthen some of the powers available to PCSOs. For example, it is illogical for a PCSO to be able to disperse a group from an area but unable to direct an individual to leave it. The Bill is right to give senior officers discretion to tackle that. It is also illogical for PCSOs to be able to fill out forms in those instances but not to issue them. The streamlining of some of the powers that apply to PCSOs will free up police officer time for doing the things that warrant officers should be doing.
Following that logic, I want to press the Minister to consider extending PCSO powers to take on other responsibilities. For example, a PCSO is able to seize drugs, but not search for them. They can search for alcohol and tobacco, and if they happen to find drugs during the course of those searches they can confiscate them, but if they can smell cannabis they are not allowed search for it; they have to divert the time of a warranted officer instead. The feedback I receive from senior officers is that that is not an effective use of police time.
Minor issues can also be annoying to officers. For example, a PCSO can issue a fixed penalty notice for cycling on a towpath—we do not have many towpaths in my constituency, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) finds that to be a useful option—but they cannot issue one for cycling without lights. There are a number of other similar areas; I cite those two examples simply to illustrate my argument. If we follow the Bill’s logic and its welcome measures on, for example, dispersal, we will see that PCSOs could take on more powers in tackling antisocial behaviour and that that would free up police officer time.
Another issue that the Bill does not tackle is that of potential cross-departmental work to enforce antisocial behaviour measures. Last year, there were an estimated 15,000 foreign vehicles on our roads. Once such vehicles are here for more than six months, they have to undergo an MOT and be insured and registered. It is illogical to assume that every single foreign vehicle on our roads has complied with that requirement, yet last year there was not a single prosecution of an unregistered foreign vehicle. Part of the frustration felt by Cambridgeshire police and others is that there seems to be intransigence on the part of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. It uses automatic registration recognition for stolen vehicles, but not in relation to the licensing of foreign vehicles. That has a knock-on effect in community tension; some people feel that they have to insure and register their car while others do not. Clearly, discussions need to be held between the Home Office and the Department for Transport. I would be grateful if the Minister wrote to me to confirm that he will take on that cross-departmental work. From some of the cases that I see at my constituency surgery, the issue is causing considerable annoyance.
Another area where significant time is being wasted and where cross-departmental work is suboptimal is that of licensing. It may surprise the House to hear that an area such as Wisbech in my constituency has more licensed premises in the centre than a student area such as Cambridge. Indeed, we are using existing powers on the accumulated number of licensed premises in order to try to effect change. It is clear that when the police make representations, significant time is spent on compiling long reports that are then often ignored by local councils. It would be beneficial for further work to be undertaken by the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government in order to look at police representations and whether the time spent on cases involving licensing and antisocial behaviour in communities is used as effectively as possible.
The Bill’s measures will be welcome only if they are enforced. In our rush to legislate, one of the traps that we fall into in this place is that we suspect that just introducing a Bill on antisocial behaviour will effect the change that we seek. It is clear that some of the existing measures to tackle antisocial behaviour are not being enforced. For example, an illegal rave took place in my constituency on new year’s eve. It may surprise the House to learn that the police were at the scene but—understandably, because of the numbers of people present—took the view that it was not safe for them to intervene at that point. However, even though the police were on site when the illegality took place, and even though the business owner took countless photos and the Home Secretary, no less, expressed her horror and shock and desire for enforcement when I spoke to her about the case, I discovered last week, without the police having the courtesy to tell me, that after six months they had simply dropped the investigation.
It is difficult for the community to understand exactly what evidence the police need to tackle the crime given that they were there as it happened. I welcome the Bill’s antisocial behaviour measures, but I would be grateful if the Minister took up that issue up with the chief constable of Cambridgeshire and addressed why, in a case that involved more than £50,000-worth of damage on new year’s eve and that caused concern to other business owners, no enforcement action has been taken.
I am conscious of your diktat on time, Madam Deputy Speaker, so with a minute remaining let me finish on a positive note. Under the wonderful leadership of Inspector Sissons in Wisbech, we have launched Operation Pheasant, which has so far raided 80 houses of multiple occupation and has a number of live inquiries. It demonstrates what can be achieved when effective enforcement action is taken. That would not have happened without the active support of the Home Secretary, which, along with the Bill’s measures, will do much to tackle other cases of antisocial behaviour in the months and years ahead.
It is a pleasure to follow the powerful speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay).
The shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), described the Bill as a Christmas tree Bill. In keeping with the theme of Christmas, let me start on a positive note and address one of the Bill’s good features—clause 134 on the new protection arrangements for persons at risk. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 states that specific groups of people, such as witnesses and jurors, are protected if their safety is at risk from criminal conduct. The Bill extends that further to anyone whose safety may be at risk from another person’s possible or actual criminal conduct, meaning family members and others who will have close contact with that person. That is an extremely valuable addition.
I am rather more concerned about other aspects of the Bill. The Home Secretary dismissed ASBOs a little too readily. She spoke of how they became a “badge of honour” to some people. I suspect that in three years’ time, we may be sitting here deliberating how CBOs and CPIs have become badges of honour in certain quarters. To me, that is not the point. The point is that ASBOs worked successfully in many areas. It was only the breach of them that was a criminal offence. That made them very powerful. They were not and should not have been the only tool.
With the criminal behaviour order and the crime prevention injunction, I am concerned that the police and local authorities must pay to pursue civil proceedings against the person. I worry that in these straitened times the incentives may not be there to go ahead with the orders and injunctions in circumstances where the police or local authorities would otherwise have been required to do so.
There are long and large debates to be had about CCTV, but we are living on planet Zog if we do not recognise its importance in detecting crime around the country. If CCTV is not used by the police and local authorities, we will see the proliferation of its use privately, which is surely not something that we want. I am concerned that under the Bill it be more costly and difficult for the police and local authorities to have CCTV.
Thirdly, the shadow Home Secretary was right when she spoke about community resolution, restorative justice and domestic violence. Although there are many instances of community resolution and restorative justice being very powerful, we do not want the danger of a situation in which victims of domestic violence are coerced into a settlement being put in place, because time and again that is not what happens. I urge the Government to consider that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) spoke of a register for police and crime commissioners. That is a very good idea, especially if it means that my police and crime commissioner registers the fact that he is a Liberal Democrat, which he seemed to forget to put on the ballot paper.
More seriously, the point that the shadow Home Secretary made about firearms was absolutely right. Although the proposals in the Bill are welcome, the Home Secretary needs to do more to stop people with a history of domestic violence owning a gun. I hope that the Government consider carefully who should have a gun licence. I say that as somebody who comes from a rural constituency and who met two game shooters on Friday night and got on to this subject. Responsible gun ownership in rural areas is totally different from firearms crime. We must have zero tolerance of it and the law must be much stricter about the possibility of people with a history of domestic violence owning a gun.
Finally, I turn to the horrific subject of forced marriage. The new criminal offences in the Bill are welcome. As someone who thankfully has not encountered this issue through my casework and has only read about it, I fear that one of the great problems is that we are dealing with non-equal relationships and vulnerability. The work of community groups, support networks and third-sector groups is crucial. I worry about how justice is to be obtained. Somebody who has been put in what must be one of the most horrific situations will hardly just pick up the phone, dial 999 and say, “I’m sorry, I have a problem. I’m in a forced marriage.” Justice in this area will not come cheap. I fear the effect of the cuts to women’s refuges, legal aid and especially legal aid practitioners of particular ethnic and cultural backgrounds in whom people are more likely to confide.
Will the staff who deal with those issues be back or front-office staff? At first, one thinks that they would have to be front-office staff. However, I asked that very question of the Home Office. I asked
“whether operators who respond to 999 emergency calls and 101 non-emergency calls to the police are classified as front-line or back-office.”
I was told by the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice:
“As such, some of the activities involved in call handling and control room functions are considered to be ‘front-line’”
“Some call handling and control room functions are considered in HMIC’s report as public facing ‘middle office’ roles.”—[Official Report, 29 October 2012; Vol. 552, c. 72W.]
If we are not talking specifically about front-line police, I worry that the police who deal with people who are reporting forced marriages may be extremely vulnerable to cuts.
This is a Christmas tree of a Bill; a Christmas tree of suggestions. I hope, especially on the issue of gun ownership and domestic violence, that the Minister will respond.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones). I recognise some of the points she raised, and her point about police commissioners and the so-called “independence tag” is one to which I am rather sympathetic.
This has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate thus far. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) for her comments on dangerous dogs. As chairman of the Pet Advisory Committee, a group of companion animal welfare charities, I am sympathetic to the points she raised. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who spoke powerfully on the issue of forced marriage.
It is welcome that the Opposition will not be voting against the Bill on Second Reading. I have listened to their overall concerns, but it is good to take advice and support from one’s own police force. Kent police have supported the Bill’s broad approach, saying that the streamlined and simplified toolkit approach to antisocial behaviour is to be welcomed, particularly as it provides a system that would enhance enforcement and make information sharing among partners easier, so I feel it would be wrong of me to disagree with my own police force.
I would like to concentrate on parts 1 to 5, in the light of comments on bullying made by the Home Secretary. She said:
“The Bill aims to diminish the extent to which honest and hard-working people are preyed on by criminals and by bullies who show no regard for the basic rules of civilised living.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 168.]
I am a signatory to the BeatBullying campaign to introduce Ayden’s law. The campaign was established by the families of 10 children who took their lives as a result of bullying, the BeatBullying charity and The Sun newspaper’s justice campaigner, Shy Keenan, who lost her son Ayden to bullying. One aspect of the campaign is to try to get justice for victims through legislation. There are other aspects, such as community protection to provide support for victims and families, making sure there is an interventionist approach to working with the perpetrators, providing support to local schools and communities to tackle bullying, and a compulsory support programme aimed at parents who persistently bully and intimidate others.
There is a concern, which I understand, about whether Ayden’s law would too quickly criminalise our youngsters. However, a compromise measure could be introduced through some of the clauses already in the Bill. It is too easy to say that bullying should be dealt with at school, or that it is the responsibility of parents. Evidence shows that the worst, most insidious cases of bullying take place not just at school, but on local transport, social media, via text messages and in areas beyond the school gate.
We know that 44% of suicides committed by young people in the UK are connected to bullying; that one in three of our children are victims of cyber-bullying; that one in 13 experience persistent and intentional cyber-bullying; that one in 20 have resorted to self-harm; that 3% have reported a suicide attempt because of bullying; and that 42% of children in secondary school have been bullied. I have become interested in this issue because, as the House knows, I am still heavily involved in girls’ football, and I speak regularly to teenage girls about their concerns—issues that they might not raise with their parents, peers or school teachers—and one of those is bullying in school. Sometimes they feel they cannot speak to anybody about it or that, if they do, nothing will be done, so we should use the Bill to strengthen the measures in place to tackle bullying.
I know that many are concerned about criminalising youngsters by introducing a new offence, but perhaps we should look at other countries’ experiences. Unsurprisingly, Sweden led the way by introducing legislation on bullying. It did not go as far as making it a criminal offence, but it made it illegal for a school not to act. Recently, South Africa and New Zealand have introduced anti-bullying legislation, as too have 49 states in America. It is unsurprising that Sweden has led the way, because it has a world-renowned bullying expert whose research found that those who have been bullies are 60% more likely to commit a crime by the age of 24. Tackling this at a young age, then, could prevent people from entering the criminal justice system later in life.
I said we could use the Bill to come up with a compromise. By that, I meant that the injunctions in the Bill could be used to impose positive requirements, as well as prohibitions, on youngsters who are bullying, thereby providing an opportunity for professionals to intercede and provide support, such as courses—provided by the likes of BeatBullying and others—and family intervention, which is all part of the campaign around Ayden’s law. As the injunctions do not result in a criminal record, they give us an opportunity to state in the Bill that bullying could have legal consequences while still providing the opportunity for the bully to change their behaviour.
That would be a good compromise for those wary of criminalising youngsters: people would have the opportunity to change their behaviour, but if they failed to do so, they could and should then enter the criminal justice system at a later stage. I recognise the issues associated with the definition of bullying, but those could be worked through, particularly as we know that youngsters are now being subjected to constant abuse, often over social media. This is a real opportunity, then, and I would like to work with the Minister to take the matter forward and potentially introduce amendments making it clear that, as the Home Secretary said a few months ago in her opening remarks about the Bill, bullying is unacceptable in a civilised society.
I want to make two further points. I am chair of the all-party group on alcohol misuse, and, as the Minister will be aware, many of the representations sent to MPs in advance of the Bill mentioned the cost of alcohol misuse to our front-line services, particularly the time the police spend dealing with people misusing alcohol on our streets and in our town centres at weekends—and, indeed, in domestic violence situations, as the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) said. The Bill is an opportunity, then, to strengthen the measures and give the police the tools they need to tackle the issue. I recognise that the Home Office is looking through the alcohol strategy consultation and will, I hope, come forward with some proposals, but this Bill is potentially another opportunity for it to do so.
The final issue I want to raise might sound a bit silly compared with the other two, but it is something I feel passionately about. This Bill could have addressed the issue of bogus charity bags, which is a growing crime that we face in society. This is not just about the cost of a bag of clothes; it is about giving people confidence that the clothes they put outside their houses for charity are being delivered to charity, and that they are not being taken advantage of by those intent on criminal behaviour. Kent police has worked hard to deal with the issue, partly because I have badgered it into submission. Kent police is keen to ensure that the county becomes bogus bag-free and is using all the agencies, partly because it recognises that organised crime can lie behind bogus charity bags, which quite often mask other criminal activities. The money raised goes into much more serious crimes. The police in my area feel that if they can nip that in the bud at an early stage, it will save them a lot more time and grief in the long run.
That is some food for thought for the Minister. I hope he will consider adding other issues to the Bill. Bullying is a key part of that, but we also need a statement of intent on alcohol misuse, and I would like much tougher action taken on bogus charity bag collectors.
As you and the House will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, my constituent 14-year-old Jade Lomas Anderson was savaged to death by four dogs on 26 March this year. She was staying overnight at her friend’s house as a special treat for having such a glowing end-of-term report. We do not yet know what happened—indeed, we may never know, because Jade was the only person present—but what we do know is the current legislation is inadequate to deal with the aftermath of an attack on private property, or to prevent one from happening in the first place.
Jade’s mum and dad, Shirley and Michael Anderson, came to London last week to meet Lord de Mauley, a Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary to urge them to take action to tackle dangerous dogs. I am sure the House will join me in commending Jade’s parents for their bravery in campaigning to change the law at this most difficult time. As they say, Jade was a kind girl who would do anything to help other people, and she would want them to try to prevent any other families from suffering in the way they are suffering. As Michael says, with 210,000 attacks each year, more than 6,000 people admitted to hospital, often with life-changing injuries, 12 postal workers attacked each day and 16 people killed since 2005, dog attacks are reaching epidemic proportions.
Indeed, there have been three more attacks in Atherton in just the last week. The first one was not reported to the police. The second involved Michael’s cousin, who has bruises and scratches from a Staffordshire bull terrier jumping up at her in an aggressive way when she was walking her dog in a park. She was lucky: her boyfriend was there to drive the dog away. The third incident happened when two young men were attacked in the street by another unaccompanied Staffie. Those attacks, like the other 400 or so that took place last week, will not hit the national news and might not even make their way into the local newspapers, but they illustrate the need to take holistic, robust action to protect people and other animals.
The proposal to extend the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to cover attacks on private property is welcome, but there are fears that the Government’s proposal that dangerous dogs be dealt with under community protection notices will be inadequate. Indeed, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is still calling for dog control notices to be introduced. Such notices would give the authorities the power to intervene if concern is raised about a dog. They would be able to instruct the owner to take a range of actions, which could include keeping the dog muzzled, keeping it on a lead, keeping it away from children or having it castrated. The owner and the dog could be made to undertake training. I believe—although not everyone agrees with me—that we should be able to order the owner to reduce the number of dogs in a household if that home is not suitable for the number and size of dogs present.
As others have said, dog control notices are supported by a wide range of organisations, including the Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Veterinary Association, Blue Cross, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, and the Communication Workers Union. They have already been introduced in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and they should be introduced across the rest of the United Kingdom. Their existence would provide a swift, flexible and proportionate way of dealing with irresponsible dog owners. They would act as an early-warning system, enabling action to be taken to promote responsible ownership rather than just prosecuting owners after a tragedy has taken place.
I know from the answers given by Lord de Mauley and the Home Secretary that the Government believe that the measures in the Bill will have an equivalent effect, but I disagree. The most important measures that we need are early intervention mechanisms—preventive measures that can be put in place before an attack takes place. Simply to subsume the issue of dangerous dogs into the whole issue of antisocial behaviour will not give it the priority it needs.
This is not simply a matter of dealing with a dangerously out-of-control dog; it is about taking action before that dog attacks. It is about looking at the warning signs, such as excessive barking or attacking other animals, and putting preventive measures in place. I cannot see how the Government’s proposals will trigger the appropriate professional response to such signs, allowing action to be taken to protect the community and improve the welfare of the dog. Michael Anderson believes that there should be a dedicated organisation in each local authority area to deal with the issue of dogs, and that such a dedicated team would be able to address the issues of community safety and dog welfare. The Government’s proposals fall far short of meeting Michael’s ambitions.
I welcome the proposal to microchip all dogs, but many of my constituents do not believe that that goes far enough. They believe we should reintroduce effective dog licences that would require owners to make a decision about how many dogs they can own and care for. Microchipping would go part-way towards achieving that, but why not go the whole hog? If we do not, what penalties will there be for not microchipping a dog, or for not registering a change of ownership or place of residence if a dog is sold or given away when the owner moves home?
I am pleased that the Bill will extend to assistance dogs, but I am disappointed that it will not extend to all protected animals. I have already told the House about the distress and expense caused to the ex-mayor of Blackrod when she lost two of her cats in a dog attack, and about the ex-mayor of Westhoughton, whose dog was attacked when he was walking it on a lead. Let me also tell the House about a farmer who has signed my petition on dangerous dogs. She heard a disturbance in one of her fields and went out to discover a dog attacking her cattle. The dog started to come towards her, when its owner came out from behind some bushes and called it off. She was deeply traumatised, faced a large vet’s bill and was unable to sleep for a week. We know that some owners deliberately use other animals to make their dogs more vicious, but we also know that attacks on protected animals can be a warning sign of a dog becoming dangerously out of control. I hope the Government will amend the Bill to include attacks on protected animals.
We also need to educate people about dogs, about the suitability of different breeds for their environment, about how they behave around children and about how much space and exercise they need. We need to educate people not to leave any dog alone with young children, no matter how small or placid it might normally be. We need to educate children about dealing with dogs, about treating all dogs with respect and about understanding their body language. We also need to educate children and owners about the care and training of their pets.
We also need to deal with the issue of breeding dogs. Dog charities and local authorities are reporting an increase in the number of abandoned dogs, yet ordinary people can breed five litters of puppies a year without needing a licence. The Bill does not touch on that issue, but it does get rid of dog control orders, which give local authorities specific powers relating to dog fouling, keeping dogs on a lead or putting them on a lead when told to do so, excluding dogs from particular areas and limiting the number of dogs allowed in certain areas. I am told that the proposed legislation will allow for some of those powers, but I come back to my earlier point that subsuming dog legislation into a Bill that covers antisocial behaviour, crime and policing will not give the issue the priority it needs. As the Communication Workers Union has stated, the Government have missed the opportunity to consolidate all the necessary dog control and welfare legislation into a specific dog control Bill.
Many people have said that the real issue is not dangerous dogs but irresponsible owners. The Government should take this opportunity to be tough on dangerous dogs and tough on the causes of dangerous dogs. The tragedy of Jade Lomas Anderson and all the other victims is a testament to what happens when we do not take an holistic approach to dog ownership and dangerous dogs. I urge the Government at least to amend the Bill to include more specific clauses, and to take lessons from the past and to introduce a dog control and welfare Bill.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). I congratulate her and pay tribute to her for the work she has done following the tragedy of her constituent, Jade Anderson. I was delighted to meet briefly Jade’s parents, Michael and Shirley, and I hope that this evening will bring some solace to them, as they see how widespread is the interest in the issue of irresponsible dog owners and dangerous dogs.
Our Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has produced two reports that are relevant to this debate: the 7th report on “Dog Control and Welfare” and the Government response thereto; and, perhaps still more relevant, our 1st report on the “Draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill”. I say in passing, if I may, that it is a matter of regret to the Select Committee and to those who submitted either oral or written evidence to our pre-legislative scrutiny that the Government published the Bill, particularly clauses 98 and 99, before we were able to publish our pre-legislative scrutiny. Normally, Select Committees meet at any time, including in the recess, but the one time when we are prohibited from meeting is during Prorogation. I pay tribute to those who sit with me, serving on the Committee, particularly those who helped us draft the reports and the witnesses who were able to respect a very tight timetable. Unfortunately, we were unable to draft the report before Prorogation, so our views were not taken into account when clauses 98 and 99 were published. That is obviously, as I say, a matter of regret.
Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I would like to take the opportunity to welcome the extension of the Bill to include attacks on private property, which I think will address the issues raised by the hon. Members for Bolton West and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) who had two of the most tragic cases. It is important to rehearse here that since 2007 nine people have died as a result of dog attacks, of whom seven were children. The annual cost to the NHS of treating such injuries is around £3 million. During my first ever election campaign, I was bitten in a rather sensitive area at the top of my thigh by a dog of immense good taste. It went unreported because the dog was owned by a Conservative supporter, and I was not going to take the matter any further. Some eight attacks on assistance dogs and hundreds of livestock attacks happen each month. As we know, a number of communications and other workers are similarly attacked.
We said in our previous report in February that the Government’s belated proposals for improvement were woefully inadequate. The Bill’s proposals are welcome, but we say that they are limited in scope and fall short of providing a comprehensive and effective regime for tackling the increasing problem of out-of-control dogs. Strong measures to prevent attacks are conspicuously absent. I shall talk in a moment about the dog control notices.
What the hon. Member for Bolton West said earlier about the issue of resources must not go uncovered this evening. The administration of dog control notices in Scotland is immensely resource intensive; it is labour intensive, and I think that the Government should do some work on this issue in Committee before the Bill returns to the House on Report. Other areas that are resource intensive include dog control notices, the issue of stray dogs and dog welfare.
We welcome the extension of the provisions to deal with attacks on private property, which was the one loophole that we thought should be covered. We welcome, too, the extension to cover attacks on assistance dogs. We must recognise this evening, however, that the Government have wasted an opportunity to bring forward wider measures, giving a full and comprehensive review of all the laws applying in one consolidated piece of legislation.
The hon. Member for Bolton West regretted that the legislation would not cover attacks on all protected animals, and I would refer to livestock in that context. Many Members will have received representations from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, which opposes breed-specific legislation and does not believe that clause 99 will offer the necessary solutions. It is also concerned about the replacement of dog control notices with public spaces protection orders.
I hope that the Minister will give a little more substance to what was said by the Home Secretary. She listed the six powers provided by the Bill, including the public protection order, the community protection order and the dispersal power, but I remain to be convinced that any sort of order will be specific enough. The evidence given to the Committee was very persuasive, suggesting that dog control notices are working effectively in Scotland, and I think that it behoves the Government to explain to the House why they have rejected them. Control notices are very specific, relating to specific dogs in specific areas, and I agree with the hon. Member for Bolton West and others that their retention might prevent future tragedies. If a dog appears to be out of control, we need to be able to bear down on its irresponsible owner. A dog will only behave as it has been taught to behave.
I disagree with the hon. Lady on just one issue. When dog licences existed, only 50% of owners bothered to purchase them. I fear that responsible owners will microchip their dogs but irresponsible owners will not, and that there will continue to be a drain on charities for that simple reason.
The Communication Workers Union considers part 7 to be a missed opportunity, believing that many of its workers need stronger protection. I urge the Minister to be honest with the House—I am sure that he will be nothing other than honest; that was a bad word to use. I urge him to be fulsome in explaining to the House in more detail why the Government have rejected dog control notices. As I have said, we have been persuaded that they are working well in part of the United Kingdom.
While we accept most of the Bill’s provisions, we reserve our right, as a Select Committee, to table amendments on Report if, having conducted pre-legislative scrutiny, we remain dissatisfied. The draft Bill is welcome as far as it goes in extending provision to attacks made by dangerous dogs anywhere, but we have expressed our reservations about the extent of the “householder case”, and I hope that the Minister will elaborate on that in his response. We would also welcome clarification of both the definition of an “assistance dog” and the new provisions relating to “fit and proper” dog owners.
We are disappointed that the Government have not taken account of the benefits to the public of meeting the expectations that the hon. Lady said had been raised, and the benefits to law enforcers of consolidating the myriad legislative measures on dog control and breeding. There have been many newspaper reports of attacks by dogs on other animals—not just other dogs but, in particular, horses—which are a real problem in the countryside. While we appreciate DEFRA’s concern about the need to retain remedies in both statute and common law, we are not convinced that consolidation would lead to a diminution of the range of legal options available. I believe that the bulk of the evidence given to the Committee demonstrated that a single unified Act would provide a clear and holistic set of measures for those who are given the task of enforcing dog legislation.
The Minister has his work cut out for him, and we shall monitor him very closely indeed.
As always, it is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), who chairs the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am tempted to use youth parlance and say, “What they said in their report” and then sit down, but it is worth recording that, although some of these measures are welcome, they are broadly described in the EFRA Committee report as woefully inadequate and belated. That sums up where many of the organisations that have campaigned long and hard for dog control measures feel we have got to. They welcome the Bill being introduced but they feel that it is not there yet.
It has also been a great privilege to hear some of the contributions by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I would like to mention in particular the contributions by my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who spoke with real insight and passion on behalf of the people in their constituencies who have tragically lost family members. There are so many such instances.
May I briefly turn to a separate issue? It relates to chapter 2, clauses 55 to 68. Although I have no pecuniary interest and no financial remittance whatever, I declare that I am the chairman of Glamorgan Area Ramblers and a vice-president of Ramblers Cymru. There are some concerns. The approach is well intended and builds on what has been done to restrict gate access to paths. The issue is getting the balance right. People have had a legitimate right to use those paths and public areas over many years and they should be heard, too. There is some concern, based on the track record of similar measures, that sometimes local communities have felt bypassed in that process. We must ensure that, in tackling antisocial behaviour—it is often an issue with some of these dark, narrow alleys as sometimes the entrances and egresses are used for criminal behaviour—there is proper community consultation, including with those who may say, “Let us get to the causes of the problem, rather than deal with the symptoms and simply gate off the path.”
On dog law reform and the Bill’s measures to tackle irresponsible owners, it has taken three years. My appeal to the Government, as a former Minister who took great pains to work on a cross-party basis to improve Bills, is that we should please take the opportunity to get the legislation right. I refer in particular to the issue of dog control notices. I have not yet heard—it is for the Government to provide this—compelling reasons why dog control notices are not appropriate. They are backed by many of the 30 organisations, including the police, the Royal College of Nursing, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which still maintain that a purposeful, direct and discrete measure is needed in the Bill specifically to deal with dog control. There are at least two reasons for that. The first is to do with early intervention and getting, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West said, to the root of the problem before an attack takes place. That should happen when an animal displays certain behavioural traits, when a social worker, postal worker or member of the family has said, “There are real issues with this animal—something should be done.” Something could also be done early on with the owner of the animal. I am waiting to hear a strong argument from the Minister as to why the Government have taken that position on dog control notices. The Secretary of State did nothing to dispel my concerns and those of many others.
Already there have been two fatalities this year. There have been 17 fatalities since 2005. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree mentioned many of those tragic cases. There are nearly 250,000 attacks every year. Every local authority faces hundreds of thousands of pounds of costs to kennel the dogs. The Metropolitan police and West Midlands police face millions of pounds of costs every year. Thousands of work days are lost—not only for postal workers but home workers. That has financial costs, too.
We support the Government’s move to extend to private property the ability to prosecute. Let us get the balance right in terms of trespassers, but that move is welcome. It is right to encompass assistance dogs within the proposals and we support any measure to do that. In so doing, however, I hope we debate in Committee the aspects that the Chair of the EFRA Committee touched on relating to equines, bovines, cattle and sheep in the fields. Following a freedom of information request, some fantastic analysis was done by the Farmers Guardian. Many others have campaigned on the issue. They have identified a rise in the number of attacks on farmyard stock: from 691 in 2011 to 739 in 2012. Individual owners must take responsibility. My family is involved in upland sheep farming, and we have had to take direct action when dogs have been attacking sheep on the hills. There must also be some comeback on owners who leave their dogs out to run wild in the fields or let them off the leash. I hope that such a measure will feature, and measures on attacks on protected animals ought to be considered, too.
Good briefings on dog control notices have been produced by Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Communication Workers Union and many other organisations. They criticise the Bill because they see the four different measures proposed in it as adding considerable administration and bureaucracy—I wait to be disabused of that notion by the Minister in his closing remarks, or perhaps in Committee—as opposed to being flexible, light-touch measures that can facilitate early intervention before an attack takes place. Crime prevention injunctions and criminal behaviour orders, for example, both require court hearings if requirements are imposed, and there must be someone responsible for supervising compliance with the requirements, evidence must be given to the court, and if the person is under 18, the applicant must consult the local youth offending team.
When a social worker goes into a house and they have been told by an RSPCA officer, “The last time we were in there, we had a bit of a problem with the dog, so watch out,” and the dog displays the same behaviour or the owner riles the dog or is clearly mistreating the dog, that is when those steps should be taken, and quickly, without having to go through a lengthy bureaucratic procedure. What we need are bespoke dog control notices, instead of a generic approach. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is very firm on that, as are many outside organisations. The Minister will have to work very hard in Committee if he wants to persuade us otherwise.
DCNs can work. There is a parallel, and it is not only provided by Scotland. There are provisions under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 for what are called IS87s issued by the RSPCA, and we should look at their compliance rate. These are very flexible and easy to use. Last year 10,728 IS87s were issued, and the level of compliance was 93%. They do work, therefore; they offer a much lighter touch and are much more effective. If we look back to previous years, we see that the compliance rates were 97%, 94%, 96% and 97%. I therefore say to the Minister that there is an alternative way forward, based on the DCN approach, which we can already see works under a slightly different mechanism.
The Minister must think very hard about how to proceed, and I ask him to go forward with an open mind. We have heard the arguments about why we should not go forward, and they have not persuaded the organisations I have mentioned, including the police. If there is an issue of resources and the Government are worried that the moment they say, “Dog control notice,” there will be a carry-on of resources down to local authorities, charitable bodies and so forth, let us put that up front and talk about how it can be overcome. However, we should not simply package this in with the wider generic package of measures that may or may not be effective, when the police and others are looking to deal with the myriad problems to do with antisocial behaviour and community safety. Our worry is that dog control and dealing with irresponsible owners will again not be the top priority, as has so often been the case in the past.
I urge the Minister to keep an open mind; I urge him to listen to the Committee and to be open to changing his mind as the Bill progresses. That is all I ask. That is what makes for a good, listening Government and Executive, and he has heard from both sides of the House tonight that that is what we are looking for.
It is an enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who made an incredibly powerful speech. I know the Opposition Front-Bench team have kindly indicated that it does not intend to press the House to a Division, so part of my task tonight is, perhaps, not to detain us all for too long.
I will speak principally about those parts of this Bill, which I support, that address the question of forced marriage. Before I do so, however, I want my hon. Friend the Minister to know that I have listened very carefully to many of the contributions to this debate, and he has a problem. He has a real problem with the measures that are supposed to deal with the difficulties caused by dogs. We have heard incredibly powerful contributions from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) in particular, the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh). She made it clear to the Minister—I hope he is listening—that he needs to tell the House why the Government do not think that the measures that have almost universal support on both sides of the House, other than from the Front Benchers, and that are in place north of the border should not be included in the Bill. I understand the desire not to have a smorgasbord of measures dealing with antisocial behaviour, but we are talking about a specific problem, to which a specific solution exists in Scotland and which, from the contributions I have heard this afternoon, is effective. He will need to make it clear to the House, although not necessarily tonight as we are not going to divide, but certainly in Committee, and subsequently, precisely why the Government are not in favour of introducing those measures.
As I have said, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) said, this is a wide-ranging Bill that deals with a large number of things. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) referred to the problem of illegal raves in his constituency. I have to tell the House that my constituency is not too distant from Cambridgeshire, despite what we feel may be frequently thought in the corridors of Whitehall, and it has the same problem. I was speaking only last week to some of my local farmers who have encountered it. Anybody who has seen the aftermath of one of these illegal raves knows that we need to have in place the measures necessary to deal with that problem. In addition to dealing with the questions about dogs that have been put to him by other hon. Members, one thing that I want to hear from the Minister when he winds up the debate is that the measures in the Bill will deal effectively with the problem of illegal raves.
As I said at the outset, the principal issue to which I wish to address my comments is that of forced marriage because I know that the forced marriage provisions in the Bill have support from those on both sides of the House. However, it is important to record precisely the problem with which the Bill needs to grapple and for the Minister to make it clear to the House that it will do that. I say that conscious, of course, that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) made an extremely powerful speech, touching on the measures in part 9 of the Bill, which it would be difficult to follow.
Let me begin by identifying what the problem is, because this issue is hidden from the vast majority of Members of this House and our constituents. Every year, thousands of people—principally the young and, therefore, vulnerable—are affected by it. We are talking about more than 1,000, based on the statistics we have from the forced marriage unit, and I pay tribute to the previous Government for supporting it when it was set up in 2005. We know from the research that has been conducted and from anecdotal evidence that the 1,000-plus people who contact the unit every year are simply the tip of the iceberg. We do not know quite how many young men and women are affected, but they deserve the protection of the law and they have not had it south of the border in the way that Scotland has enacted it.
It is therefore right that we welcome the measures in part 9 of the Bill, which address, for the first time, the criminal nature of forcing people to contract a marriage where one, or both, of them does not wish to do so. This intervention that the law requires to be made comes not just in the context of young and vulnerable adults; in the vast majority of cases they are being forced into the situation not only by the people they love, but by the people who are supposed to be looking after them, caring for them and ensuring that their transition from childhood to adulthood proceeds smoothly and in a way that makes them useful, valuable and happy members of our society.
As I say, the measures in the Bill are to be welcomed. The difficulty with the existing law, for which the previous Administration are to be criticised, is that the system to protect those who find themselves confronted with this problem contained in the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 was simply to have in place civil law measures, which, in effect, led to an order or series of orders against those who might force people into marriage.
The first problem with that—a point that the previous Government failed to listen to—was that it sent out completely the wrong message. Forcing someone into marriage is not only not desirable; given the context in which it occurs, it ought to be a crime. Although some responses to the Government’s consultation indicated that there might be some downsides to criminalising such behaviour, we ought to be absolutely clear that this is not acceptable behaviour in our society, and if it is not acceptable behaviour in our society, it ought to be a crime in England and Wales, as it is in Scotland. Of course, other criminal offences may be committed during the course of forcing someone to contract a marriage, but they may not be, or they may be so serious that there is a reluctance on the part of the vulnerable person affected to instigate a complaint or a prosecution.
The second problem with having only a civil law system of dealing with forced marriage is that it led to a lack of awareness on the part of professionals, certainly in 2011 when the Select Committee on Home Affairs reported on what precisely could be done, as a matter of law, when a young person found themselves in this position. The follow-on point is that once a forced marriage protection order of some description had been obtained, as far as many professionals were concerned that was the end of the problem, but of course it is not necessarily the end of the problem; it is important to see that the order and its provisions are enforced.
The third problem was that in the absence of criminality, there was a lack of effective protection, or a lack of an effective penalty, although of course people were put into custody for breach of orders made by the courts. The deterrent effect of having only civil law remedies, which were difficult to enforce and rarely enforced, was therefore lessened.
It is important to get this point across: none of this is to attack legitimate arranged marriages, which my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) referred to in an intervention on the Home Secretary. None of it has anything to do with proper arranged marriages, or interferes with the customs or culture of minority communities in this country. I understand that the original decision by the previous Administration not to criminalise forced marriage south of the border may well have been based on a desire not to be seen to target minority communities. Nobody wants to target minority communities, or to attack their culture or customs, but I have to tell Opposition Front Benchers that, given the problem of forced marriage, that was an error—an error that this Government propose to rectify, with cross-party support, in part 9 of the Bill. That is very much to be welcomed, as is the entirety of the Bill, subject to the points that I have made, which the Minister will need to deal with, about dangerous dogs. If we were dividing on Second Reading, which we are not, I would of course give the Bill my support.
I am delighted to follow my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), who gave us some very interesting information about forced marriage that I was not fully aware of, so I thank him for that. I realise that we are a bit short of time, but I am grateful for a few short minutes—
I am now even more grateful. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall not speak at 90 mph, then. I want to take a few minutes of the Chamber’s time, because the Bill is a superb opportunity to break generational cycles of antisocial behaviour. I am changing the subject from forced marriage to how we can, through early prevention measures, stop today’s babies becoming tomorrow’s ASBO kids. The Bill rightly puts victims at the heart of our response to antisocial behaviour. However, a key part of the background to bringing in this Bill was the Government’s clear determination to focus on long-term solutions to antisocial behaviour.
In the May 2012 White Paper it was clear that the underlying issues driving antisocial behaviour, most notably mental health issues and troubled family backgrounds, should be addressed through this Bill. Not only that, but during pre-legislative scrutiny early intervention was identified as a crucial part of changing the route to antisocial behaviour, so I hope that the new clauses I will be submitting will help the Government to make even more progress in getting rid of the appalling blight of antisocial behaviour.
I want to outline why getting it right in the early stage of life could be the single biggest challenge of the 21st century. I am aware that I have touched on this subject many times in the Chamber, and thankfully I feel I am beginning to convince colleagues of its merit, but I want to touch again on what early attachment actually is. As babies we are only sensory beings. When we cry, we do not know what is wrong—that we are wet, hot, cold, tired, hungry or bored. We just know that something is wrong. Babies rely on an adult caregiver to meet their needs, to soothe them, and ultimately to help them learn that the world is a good place.
In the first year of life, the baby’s brain will form a million neural connections per second. Most of us receive good enough care from good enough parents, so our brain connections will develop into a healthy pre-frontal cortex, and we will become emotionally resilient adults, making a positive contribution to society. However, for the baby who is neglected or abused, the development of the brain will literally be stunted. Not only that, but the constantly raised level of the stress hormone cortisol, as a result of the baby being left to scream himself into exhaustion day after day, will lead to a significantly greater risk that they will suffer poor physical and mental health outcomes, and crucially in relation to today’s debate, that they will develop a high pre-disposition to high risk-taking behaviour, such as violence, substance abuse and criminality.
I want to see early intervention clauses in the Bill because what happens to the infant before the age of two has a profound effect on their later ability to contribute to society. Let me give three quick examples. First, violent criminals are shown to have a high level of tolerance to their own stress levels. Secondly, there is a study of long-term prison inmates that suggests that they have attachment problems stemming back to babyhood. Thirdly, the dramatic increase in recent years of the incidence of hyperkinetic syndrome in children points to the increasing prevalence of insecure attachment. A lack of secure attachment to a loving adult in babyhood will lead to a lack of social capacity in adulthood. All too often, unloved or neglected babies go on to have no real sense of responsibility or code of conduct, and they struggle to empathise with other people.
So much of the cost to our society of antisocial behaviour could be slashed if we focused our efforts on turning around the fate of these individuals in the perinatal period. Supporting families that are struggling to form a secure bond, via parent-infant psychotherapy, family-nurse partnership, better antenatal assessment of maternal mental health, better training for health visitors and family workers, and more joined-up working by midwives, health visitors and children’s centres, would all contribute to a better society. Such changes are cheap compared with the cost of social breakdown.
Preventing just one in 10 young offenders from entering custody would save £100 million per year. Just one adult inmate costs the taxpayer around £112 a day, and a child in care costs over £300 a day. I am afraid that too much of this Bill attempts to sort out problems once they have set in. This is the position we have got ourselves into as a society. The cost of dealing with it is vast, and reoffending rates are very high, so I urge the Government to take the opportunity provided by the Bill to overhaul the way we deal with antisocial behaviour.
I have certainly mentioned some of the specific measures. One of the big problems at the moment, which the Children and Families Bill seeks to address—I was delighted to be part of its Bill Committee —is the need to speed up proceedings when children need to be taken away. All too often, when there are doubts about whether a baby can stay with the birth parents, social workers find it difficult to make that final decision, so the baby is repeatedly passed into and out of care. Very often, the toddler can be three or even older before a final decision is taken. They can be passed backwards and forwards, with profound and detrimental consequences for their early brain development.
That is at the very sharpest end where there are real doubts and concerns about that child’s ability to stay with their birth parents. In the less terrible cases, perhaps mum has suffered desperately from post-natal depression, perhaps she has had previous children taken away, perhaps she has a violent boyfriend, husband or partner at home who is causing her great difficulty in being able to form that secure bond with her baby. There, clearly, we need to be providing talking therapies, not drugs. All too often, when a mum presents with post-natal depression to a GP, she will be offered antidepressants, which will mean that she cannot breastfeed and she becomes something like a zombie, unable to form that vital secure bond. That has profound consequences for her infant, as I have outlined.
I urge the Government to take the opportunity provided by the Bill to overhaul the way we deal with antisocial behaviour, and to put far greater emphasis on prevention. Prevention is not only cheaper but much kinder than cure.
I welcome the fact that we have had a wide-ranging debate. There have been some significant and moving contributions from Members on both sides of the House. There has been a great deal of consensus on some aspects of the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and, on behalf of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) have said, there is much in the Bill that the Opposition support, which leads us not to oppose its Second Reading. There are many issues on which we find a good resonance with the Government’s proposals, in what I accept is a Christmas tree Bill. It has many important aspects that will have our support.
I fully support the new criminal offence of possessing a firearm with intent to supply. In my last few months as the policing Minister, I visited the firearms centre in the west midlands and was lobbied hard on that very issue. A gun can turn up in offence after offence because it is for hire. We want to consider some further issues concerning domestic violence and owning a firearm, but we will accept and support that measure.
We support provisions on the new College of Policing. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, we want to look at governance, composition and diversity, but in principle we support the power to issue regulations. I will also seek to scrutinise in detail the pay and negotiation proposals, but in principle we will give them a fair wind, and test some of the issues in Committee.
It will come as no surprise that we support extending the powers of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to oversight of private staff employed by police forces. My right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State raised that issue before the Bill was published, and we will want to consider constructively in Committee how to respond to IPCC recommendations and its role.
The measures on forced marriage have cross-party support. I was pleased to hear the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) give his voluble support to those proposals. The law should be strengthened to build on the work done to stop forced marriage, and we will build on positive measures by the previous Government, although I accept that there are issues that can be reflected on now, which will help to ensure that we have fairness and protection of individuals while still respecting traditions in our communities.
We will certainly support measures giving immigration officers stop-and-search powers, which I think is reasonable, particularly given the nature of terrorism that we have at the moment. We support the principle of community remedy under clause 93, but again we will want to test that to a good degree in Committee. We strongly believe that restorative justice and community resolutions should be used when dealing with antisocial behaviour, but we need greater clarity about what that means, not just a list of actions that authorities could take, which the Bill gives at the moment. We need more definition. I hope that we can explore those issues constructively in Committee.
I am also pleased to look at the powers of police community support officers. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) for his constructive and helpful remarks. He—dare I say it—reached out to Opposition Members with his support for previous policies. For that I am grateful, because it does not happen all that often. We will certainly look at those issues constructively and work with him, if he happens to be a member of the Public Bill Committee, to look at how we can form a consensus.
We will examine the clauses on victims’ services. We do not want to vote against them at this stage, but we have concerns about their fragmentation through commissioning by police commissioners and want to know what the relationship will be with national commissioning. We will test those concerns accordingly in Committee, as we will for the witness protection measures in clause 134, which were mentioned and supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones). They seem to be sensible measures that deal with some wider issues.
A number of issues raised in the debate will be looked at closely in Committee. I was particularly impressed by the remarks the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) made on sexual exploitation, and indeed by the Home Secretary’s generous intervention, when she said that she would look at discussing in Committee the role of hotels and guest houses. Again, we will have an opportunity to test that. The points made by the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) on bullying were well made, and the cross-party discussions we have had tonight show that there is a potential consensus on really scrutinising those matters in Committee.
Early intervention, which was mentioned by the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), is extremely important. If there are constructive suggestions, the Opposition will look at them, because we recognised when in government that early intervention is key to preventing future poor behaviour. That support can be mirrored in a number of ways, and that is what we will do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) mentioned knife possession and the experience in Blackpool. I had some sympathy with the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) when she mentioned Travellers, litter and responsibility. That has had an impact in my constituency, which is a tourist area, and we will happily look at that in Committee.
There remain two main areas where there was the potential for consensus, but not necessarily with Government Front Benchers. The first relates to the question of how we deal with legislation on dogs and dog control issues. The RSPCA, ACPO, the CWU, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the Dogs Trust and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), have all suggested that the measures in the Bill are not sufficient for meeting the challenges of the problem.
The shadow Minister will be well aware of Northern Ireland’s dangerous dogs legislation, which is referred to as five-star because of the steps that have been taken. Does he feel that it is perhaps not too late for the Government to consider that legislation as the method for trying to control dogs here in England, by making the Bill more specific, rather than generic, as it is now?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The model in Northern Ireland could certainly be considered, as it has much merit.
I think that the Minister needs to reflect on the matter, because as the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said, he will face some challenges in Committee on those issues. The RSPCA, the CWU, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the Dogs Trust and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have all raised concerns and suggested that we need to look at some further matters, so I think that the Minister needs to come to Committee prepared to deal with those concerns. I say that not least because of the cases we have heard about today. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) mentioned John Paul Massey and the recent case of Clifford Clarke. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) mentioned the death of Jade Lomas Anderson. Last week I had the privilege of meeting her determined parents with my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who over many months and years has given much time to this issue, raised dog control notices. When the RSPCA says that
“This is a missed opportunity and we cannot understand why the Government has ignored the majority of the public, politicians and organisations”,
we clearly have an issue to which we should return. Not one voice from the Government or Opposition Back Benches opposed those views during this debate. In February, the EFRA Committee said that the proposals were “woefully inadequate”. I am sorry that the Government produced this Bill prior to receiving the Committee’s comments.
During our discussions today, a powerful case has been made for considering measures on dangerous dogs. The Bill is far too weak on this immensely serious issue. For example, local authorities would be allowed to prevent dogs from entering a playground but could not ban them from streets and shopping areas. There are anomalies that we need to test and look at in detail. Dog control notices could ensure muzzling of dogs in places which the public access, the neutering of dogs, and the owner and dog having to attend and complete training courses. Battersea Dogs and Cats Home says:
“We are looking for the Government to introduce Dog Control Notices which will do more to provide for early intervention and prevention.”
I hope that the Government will listen to the voices across the Chamber that have asked for that.
The other big issue is antisocial behaviour orders. Opposition Members expressed the concern—I admit that it was potentially more partisan—that the lack of criminal sanction is an error that weakens the Government’s proposals and means that antisocial behaviour will not be tackled as effectively in future. We will test that in Committee and table amendments accordingly. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South and other hon. Friends stressed that that lack of criminal sanction is key to the effectiveness or otherwise of antisocial behaviour orders. The community trigger may not be effective in this context. Three complainants are needed before a complaint will even begin to be taken seriously, and that needs further review. Coupled with that, we have cuts in the community safety budget, cuts in police numbers and, even after a heckle by the hon. Member for Cambridge, a lack of commitment to CCTV cameras to provide really good support to policing in our communities.. That shows that there is the potential for a weakening of powers.
Sadly, I will end on a partisan note. The weakening of the provisions on DNA, the reduction in CCTV, the reduction in police numbers and the cuts in the community safety budget show that this Government are not tackling crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour in a way that will increase confidence within our communities.
The right hon. Gentleman listed a number of things that the Labour Government introduced that some would see as rather authoritarian. Is he really bemoaning the fact that this Government do not, for example, intend that the DNA of innocent people should be kept?
From memory, about 25,000 such people—according to Home Office modelling, not mine—could go on to commit further offences. We had a very full debate on this issue and we lost the arguments. Ultimately, I believe that the measures that Labour put in place in government on DNA, CCTV, antisocial behaviour orders, community investment and policing helped to reduce crime and will continue to help to reduce it still further.
This is not a bad Bill and we will not oppose it this evening, but it is a weak Bill: it weakens the potential for communities to receive strong support to tackle antisocial behaviour and it does not do what it could have done on dogs. We welcome and support some of its measures, but we will test them in Committee. We will ensure that the Bill receives its Second Reading tonight so that we can address those issues. I hope that the Minister will listen not just to the Opposition, but to Members on his side of the House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to conclude this thoughtful and extensive debate. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) for his largely thoughtful speech, although it was slightly diminished by his failure to acknowledge that this Government are presiding over the lowest level of crime since the independent survey began more than 30 years ago. That is a painful truth, but those of us who put the interests of our constituents before party political debating points are proud of it.
This has been a wide-ranging debate. Some contributions centred on parts of the Bill that have not been widely commented on, and there were some constructive ideas from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) about police community support officers and from my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) about early intervention.
Large parts of the Bill are broadly popular across the House. For example, the right hon. Member for Delyn touched on provisions relating to the College of Policing and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and we will have an opportunity to study those in greater detail in Committee. He also welcomed the proposal, which I think is popular across the House, to make possession of a firearm with intent to supply a criminal offence. Of course, this country has some of the toughest controls in the world on firearm ownership, but we are considering how guidance can be strengthened further to take account of some of the concerns that have been raised by hon. Members.
I was also pleased to hear widespread support—including from the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who made a forceful, emotional and articulate speech—for the Government’s new proposal to criminalise forced marriage. Members were right to draw the distinction between arranged marriage, which involves the consent of both parties, and forced marriage, where mainly young women or girls, but sometimes—in about one in five cases—young men, are coerced into marital arrangements completely against their will. This is a difficult and sensitive issue, because they are usually coerced by their parents or another close family member, so nobody underestimates the difficulties faced by the Government, the Home Office and the Foreign Office in bearing down on this practice. We believe that criminalising forced marriage is the right step to take. It sends a powerful signal, and I think it is in tune with the mood of the country. I believe there is broad consent on those measures across the House.
About 90% of the contributions over the past four hours or so of debate have focused on antisocial behaviour, which is central to the Bill, and dogs. Let me talk about those two issues in turn. I am sure that every Member of the House who conducts regular surgeries for their constituents or who talks to their constituents more informally about their concerns recognises the importance that the public attach to the issue of antisocial behaviour. My constituency is by no means an inner-city area with high levels of crime, but antisocial behaviour is the issue most often raised spontaneously when I ask my constituents which of their concerns ranks highest.
Antisocial behaviour blights people’s lives and can cause profound misery. Even though some of the behaviour does not sound of huge consequence in the grand scheme of things—such as late-night noise, neighbours behaving aggressively or people ringing doorbells and running away late at night or early in the morning—it can cause great fear and unhappiness. The cumulative effect of that behaviour can be profound.
I say as a liberal—with both a small “l” and a big “L”—that people should be free from fear and persecution. That should be a measure of the civilisation that our society has attained. Many people across the country do not live free from fear and persecution, and it is their own neighbours and people in their community who impose that appalling state of affairs upon them. There is an onus on us in this House to see what we can do better to protect people in those circumstances.
It is with that in mind that we are introducing quicker and more flexible, but still proportionate, powers. We are de-cluttering and streamlining the legislation on antisocial behaviour that has grown incrementally, although with good intentions. We are streamlining the current 19 measures into six easier-to-use ones, but without weakening or diminishing the powers of the authorities—the police, councils and others—to assist the public. Why would the Government or any Member of this House want to weaken their ability to do that? We believe that the streamlined measures can be used more flexibly and speedily, and will allow the authorities better to assist the public to combat antisocial behaviour.
There are tough sanctions. One or two Members feel nervous about them, but we believe they are necessary to give the legislation force and to underpin the seriousness of this behaviour, which impacts on ordinary members of the public. There are also positive requirements in the Bill. As well as having measures to punish people and restrict their behaviour, we want to enable them to address and correct their behaviour. We want to see how those positive requirements can be used effectively. That was touched on imaginatively by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). We will certainly consider with her and the Department for Education what steps can be taken in the Bill or elsewhere to advance the points she raised.
The community trigger and the community remedy are important aspects of the Bill. The community trigger is designed to help persistent victims of antisocial behaviour. Often, a single incident is not devastating for an individual—although it could be—but the cumulative impact of incidents night after night or week after week does have a severe impact. The community trigger will ensure that there is a backstop in place so that there comes a point, sooner rather than later, when the authorities are obliged to act. Ideally, we would want the authorities to act immediately, but they will not be allowed to let a situation drag on. So that there is no misunderstanding, I should make it clear that the requirement in the Bill that at least three complaints have been made is a maximum threshold, not a minimum threshold.
I am pleased with the broad welcome the measures have received, including from the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), and my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Witham (Priti Patel) and others.
The shadow Home Secretary described the Bill as a Christmas tree Bill, and suggested some extra baubles she wished to hang on to what she had already described as a cluttered Bill. It was perhaps surprising to some Members that Labour seems to have set itself against having streamlined, effective, new antisocial behaviour powers. Instead, we have the normal, lazy, endless checklist of unfunded spending commitments. The shadow Home Secretary talked about more money for the police, more money for CCTV, more money for councils and more money for legal aid—it went on and on. Last week’s rather implausible effort to recast Labour as trustworthy with the national finances has failed to survive first contact with the Opposition Front Bench. We will see what happens, but my fear is that her vast array of spending commitments may just become Labour’s next child benefit: furious opposition, followed by meek acceptance that the Government got it right and the Opposition got it lamentably wrong.
The provisions better to protect the public from dangerous dogs raised a lot of comment. For the avoidance of doubt, we do not believe that dog control notices are necessary because the powers already exist within the Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) asked why there were no specific dog control notices, and went on to talk about illegal raves. There are no illegal rave control notices in the Bill either, because we believe that the flexible, adaptable powers can be used both for illegal raves and for dogs.
Will the Minister tell us briefly why, after three years of repeated consultations by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office, he has been unable to persuade any of the outside organisations, including the police, the Royal College of Nursing, the CWU and others, that his proposals are right? Is he telling me that he is going into the Committee stage with a closed mind? If so, we might have to object.
What I am telling the hon. Gentleman is that we believe the dog control notices provide the right protection. This is a serious issue and there are serious proposals in the Bill to strengthen the protection for the public. We are bringing forward the extension for protecting the public in private areas, as well as in public spaces.
It was very moving when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) gave a roll call of the victims of dangerous dogs. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) for the moving speech she made on behalf of her constituent, Jade Lomas Anderson. We are looking better to protect people who have the potential to be victims of dangerous dogs. I am pleased that the proposals for assistance dogs were widely welcomed.
I look forward to debating all these issues and more in Committee. The rights of victims should be at the heart of our deliberations. I have no doubt that the true mark of the Bill’s success will be fewer victims, fewer communities blighted by antisocial behaviour, and fewer victims of gun crime and forced marriage. This is an important Bill and I am pleased that it has broad support across the House. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.